First of all, I want to send out my solidarity to the occupiers of Bramber House who were evicted yesterday by a disproportionate police presence and bailiffs with ever heavy hands.*
The University of Sussex has issued a statement statement entitled, ‘Unlawful occupation of Bramber House ends.’ However, to call the occupation ‘unlawful’ is purposefully misleading. The peaceful occupation of Bramber House was not ‘unlawful’, it only became so as a result of the University applying for, and successfully being granted, an injunction and subsequent possession order.**
Legally, management could have applied for an injunction much earlier than they did. I suspect the rationale behind tolerating the occupation for such a time was to preserve the image of the university as marketed to prospective students. Protest, in the form of commodified nostalgia, is welcome at Sussex. Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing is somewhat invested in the idea of protest as quaint historical artefact; present day protest and occupation, however, is not so profitable. Tales of ‘the colourful history of Sussex student protest’ are available for purchase in ‘Making the Future’ a commemorative book to mark the 50th anniversary of the University of Sussex – enjoy!
The breaking of a glass door at Sussex House on Monday 25th March served as further, but quite possibly superfluous, justification for the injunction. No doubt management hoped that students, workers and the general public would fall into the divisive smashed window trap/debate which I do not want to have here.***
The injunction granted to the University of Sussex against ‘persons unknown’ covers the whole of campus, excluding residential buildings. This exemption is probably due to the difficulty of distinguishing between I’m-not-leaving-the-house-until-the-sun-shines tantrums from formal protest with genuine demands (I’m not sure if this is an exploitable legal loophole).
The injunction effectively criminalises all protest on campus without prior consent of the University of Sussex until September 25th 2013. So, whilst resident spin doctor and Registrar John Duffy is keen to state in a press release that, ‘peaceful demonstrations are not banned at Sussex.’ What sort of a protest is proceeded by ‘Please Sir, can we have a protest?’
It is at this point I would like to draw your attention to the Department for Communities and Local Government guidance ‘Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: a summary of available powers‘ 28th August 2012. The document is a veritable menu of repressive powers without mention of local authority and police duties under the Public Equality Duty, Equality Act 2010 or Human Rights Act 1998. It is written in the light of the eviction of the Occupy London camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the recent criminalisation of squatting. It is an important document as it gives a clear impression of the government line on the use of injunctions (they are positively encouraged) and whilst the guidance is primarily for local authorities and police, it is ‘also intended to be helpful to land owners and others involved with illegal and unauthorised encampments.’
The powers in the document are intended to provide guidance on ‘tackling’ unauthorised encampment with regard to protest occupation as well as Gypsy and Traveller sites.**** And, in a telling display of institutional racism the final section of the document explains powers to remove waste from land and the use of sections 79 to 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as an effective measure in ‘tackling statutory nuisance that may arise from illegal occupation.’
The use of injunctions and possession orders against both protesters and Gypsies and Travellers serves to demonstrate that when rights to free speech and peaceful protest, or respect for privacy and family life, come into conflict with property rights, property rights are trumps.
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* ‘Brutal Eviction of Sussex Students’ on Defend the Right to Protest
** You can read the injunction in full here because the internet is wonderous.
*** Windows schmindows, lets think about what is actually going on!
****On the connection between the use of injunctions against protesters, Gypsies and Travellers see Netpol article ‘Civil law poses threat to protest freedom’