UK court rejects Occupy London eviction challenge

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 7:27 a.m. MST

LONDON — Occupy London protesters braced for eviction Wednesday after a court ruled that local authorities can remove their four-month-old camp from outside St. Paul's Cathedral.

Officials said they would now enforce an order allowing them to take down the dozens of tents — though it did not say when the eviction would start.

"I would call on protesters to comply with the decision of the courts and remove their tents and equipment voluntarily right away," said Stuart Fraser, policy chairman of the City of London Corporation.

Last month, a High Court judge backed local authorities who are trying to remove the protest, but lawyers for the demonstrators sought to challenge the decision.

Three appeals court judges said Wednesday that the protesters had raised no compelling new legal arguments and could not appeal.

"We accept that there is a right to assemble and protest on the highway, but it is by no means an unfettered right," said David Neuberger, one of the judges.

Protesters against capitalist excess, inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement, have been camped outside the 300-year-old church since October.

They say they are exercising freedom of speech and drawing attention to a warped capitalist system that spawned a global financial crisis.

The City of London Corporation argued that the right to protest does not justify a semi-permanent campsite. During a five-day court hearing last month, lawyers for the city claimed the camp was harming nearby businesses, causing waste and hygiene problems and attracting crime and disorder.

Occupy's lawyer, John Cooper, said protesters would likely seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He said that even if the camp is removed "the Occupy message has been heard and will continue to be heard."

"This dysfunctional system needs to be called to account," he said.

The protesters set up camp outside the cathedral after they were prevented from camping in front of the nearby London Stock Exchange.

Their proximity to Christopher Wren's icon embroiled the church in a conflict between bank-bashing protesters and the city's finance industry. The church's position on the protesters has shifted several times, and the cathedral's dean and a senior priest have both resigned over the crisis.

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Online:

Occupy London: http://occupylsx.org/

City of London Corporation: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation

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