The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today welcomed the unanimous verdict of the Court of Appeal to quash a bylaw that outlawed the 25 year old Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp, intended to preventing activists from camping next to Britain’s nuclear weapons factory, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston near Reading.
The Ministry of Defence’s case that “camping in tents, caravans, trees or otherwise” should be criminalised was comprehensively rejected by the Lord Justices of Appeal, reversing an earlier High Court judgement. The campaigners’ case rested on the claim that the ban, introduced under a bylaw to the Military Lands Act, unlawfully interfered with freedom of expression and the right of assembly, as guaranteed by the Human Rights Act.
In a case that will help guarantee freedom of protest not just at other military sites, but anywhere where legal instruments are brought to clamp down on orderly, peaceful protest, the court found that the Secretary of State for Defence had not shown a “pressing social need” for the ban. Lord Justice Laws stated that “Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are liable to be a nuisance.”
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “This is excellent news, not only for those wanting to protest against the madness of spending £76 billion replacing Trident, but for everyone who wants to see the right to peaceful protest upheld. The Aldermaston Women’s peace camp has been ongoing for 25 years and however annoying the MoD might find their presence, it is a testament to the women’s tenacity that they’ve overcome this Government’s attempts to ban them.”
She continued, “Ordinary people expressing themselves through peaceful protest has been the driving force behind social progress in Britain for hundreds of years. The precedent set by the Court of Appeal is superb and will protect protest up and down the country. But it shouldn’t be necessary for people to have to spend years battling in the courts to assert their fundamental democratic rights. Gordon Brown has made some positive steps, revoking the ban on protest around Westminster, but there is still a wave of repressive legislation, from bylaws and restrictions drawn up by local police, right up to acts of Parliament which need to be reversed if we are to see the health of democratic debate in this country restored.”