When we got to court I’d got all dressed up in my smartest skirt and shirt and looked like a school girl. G wore his best polo shirt and jeans. When I asked if he had some smart clothes to wear he said this was the best option because all his other clothes were t-shirts with communist written on them. He’s an academic. We’d called a rally outside and that was pretty nice to roll up to. We were literally putting together our defence all night, we all (small legal group) tried to sleep around five but few could. G and I had not slept at all.
Before the hearing, we representatives were called to speak to the other solicitor. He was amusingly posh and generally rude, though he didn’t seem bad-natured, just nervous. He asked us if we had a defence document to give him and we did and we handed it over. He looked through it, would occasionally look up and ask a clarificatory question and would invariably, curtly reply with, ‘yes, I see’. It wasn’t a bad meeting. The whole process was pretty good until the end. Even if you know someone will fuck you, it still hurts a bit, especially when you’re having such a good time in what they want to take away. It seemed strange that the other solicitor was nervous. Why should he be nervous when, by all accounts, we don’t have a case? On the other hand, there were a lot of us, and who even knows his background. He wasn’t from Eversheds, Barclays chosen firm. Eversheds had employed him, he was their guy – that’s how big they are as a firm.
The judge was alright. He was neither disdainful nor genuinely sympathetic. He expressed sympathy at our side of the situation, though not regretfully. He must have known from the beginning what he was going to say and his engagement with me was probably humouring, which I accepted by smiling back at him, finding it impossible to take the situation too seriously. He said that our ‘submissions’ detailing our care of the place and reasons for Barclays to negotiate with us admitted guilt (and so shouldn’t have been in a defence). Court is a confusing place: we weren’t to know and actually had a few outsiders with legal training telling us it was ok, so maybe he was exaggerating the irrelevance of that inclusion. He repeated that ‘the law cuts both ways’: his way of emphasising the weight of Article 1 (the right to property). I wish I’d mentioned that that was a silly thing to say at the time. ‘With respect sir, why is our side of the law so blunt?’
If I went again, I would have tried to describe how we are using the space and hope that they see reason to adjourn. Maybe that’s a pipe dream, a description of the space probably wouldn’t sound as good to a judge as it does to me. Maybe there’s no way to describe it and the community to outsiders that could show how meaningful it is to me and the others. Besides, some things you can express in words only after careful consideration and likely, if you’re reflecting on a group experience, after collaboration with others. And even if I’d stood up and said how fun we’ve all found the time, anyone can say that they see someone’s wishes regarding their property as more important. We laughed at Daily Mail comments containing vitriol towards homeless squatters, but clearly, some people’s moral reasoning ends at the law.
On review, we should have emphasised over and over again how unfair the trial was. We are a group of people who didn’t have legal representation because we didn’t have enough notice and have no money. In court, the situation would be called inequality of arms: we ‘unknown persons’ had an underslept 23 year old philosophy graduand defending, and Barclays had a trained lawyer prosecuting. According to Liberty, the right to a fair trial cannot be limited. G says that the judge dismissed our first point about lack of notice on the basis that we had a court full of people. -.- After trying to construct a case all night and day we couldn’t help seeing the law as our big guns, where really the judicial situation was probably the crutch.
Even if the result has partly demoralised us, in some ways we’re stronger than we were before. We had a meeting immediately afterwards where people reflected on the time and how they felt. More than one person’s assessment almost moved me to tears. Admittedly I hadn’t slept, but that kind of sharing and deep agreement strengthens a group. We now have free reign over our activity too. Knowing we were appearing in court meant we partly crafted our public activity around wanting not to hinder our case. We don’t have to do that now which is liberating. Already our practice is directed by us. We follow rules: they are ours collectively. Now we can act consistently, make it what we want because we don’t need any of this to be a performance.