Right to leaflet victory in Lambeth, London report

Last time the Nuclear Trains Action Group of London Region CND leafletted outside Brixton tube, on November 5th 2005, we were approached by 2 people who identified themselves as employees of Lambeth Council who asked us whether we had ‘permission’ to leaflet in that vicinity.

We pointed out that we didn’t realise we needed such permission and indeed, we had leafletted at that spot many times over the years without any question of permission arising.

Apparently, other groups have had similar encounters in that area and on February 25th, as reported by Jim Brann, while he was on Brixton Road outside WH Smith’s doing publicity for the March 18th national “Troops Home from Iraq – Don’t attack Iran” demo, he was approached by employees of “Lambeth Street Care” who questioned his right to be there without “permission”. They then gave him a copy of a document entitled, “London Local Authorities Act 1994 Section 4(2,4) Distributiion of Free Literature and London Local Authorities Act 1990 Section 21(2) Street Trading.” I kid you not! I have a copy of this document in front of me.

The document then goes on to say, in relation to the distribution question [punctuation and grammatical construction as in the original], “Dear Sir/Madam, Lambeth Council would like to WARN you that you are in breach of the above acts respectively which says:

Distrbution of Free Literature
“2) Any person/s who distributes free literature in a place designated without the consent of the borough council or in breach of any condition subject to which the council’s consent is given. Causes or permits any persons so to do shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.

“4) Where a person is distributing free literature in a place designated without the consent of the borough council an authorised officer may SEIZE any supply of that. Literature which the person has at or near that place.”

We may pause to wonder at the authoritarian tendencies of the present administration even in small matters – the legislation seems to require that permission be sought simply to give out leaflets. Most councils it seems however have better things to do than enforce such legislation. Not Lambeth.

Jim wrote to the Lambeth Markets Manager, who had signed the above document, arguing that, “Any claimed implementation of another statute is to be viewed in the light of the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998.” He then refers the Manager to sections 10 and 11 of that Act.

In reply the Market Manager wrote that his staff would continue to enforce the legislation in question, and continued: “NOBODY is allowed to distribute free literature or set up ANY receptacles on Brixton Road, because that stretch of road is NOT a designated area for that sort of activity, by ANYBODY, regardless of the content of the message….What you don’t understand is that there is a designated place designated by Lambeth Council in Brixton, Dorrell Place or Tunstall Road (weekdays) on Brixton Road for anybody regardless of the contents of their message…Therefore your rights to campaign and express your views under the Human Rights Act is not been affected, you just cannot do it on Brixton Road without permission and arrangements with the Market office.”

However, Jim had had the foresight to copy this letter to the Borough Solicitor, who wrote: “Following careful consideration of the relevant statutes that are quoted as authorities we would inform you that it has been determined that the interpretation placed on the wording of the particular statutes by enforcement officers was erroneous and that you were incorrectly told that your distribution of documents was contrary to the law. In these circumstances we apologise for these actions and trust that it has not caused you too much inconvenience.”

A small victory for human rights in Lambeth!

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