This week, we are posting stories about freedom of speech and protest.
Protests emerge when our feelings of right and wrong, justice and injustice are too strong to keep locked up inside us. When our desire to persuade the world that something matters pushes us to action.
This is why a group called the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp campaigned against nuclear weapons. And also why one of their members, Kay Tabernacle, would not let their protest be banned without a (legal) fight.
A women’s group had been holding a peaceful protest for 23 years by camping outside an Atomic Weapons Establishment. The government tried to disband the protest by banning the camp. They argued that camping in the ‘Controlled Areas’ near the base was illegal. They said camping near the base threatened ‘national security’ and ‘public order,’ but did not give any specific reasons for how the women’s camp did this.
The government also said that the ban did not violate the group’s right of protest. This is because the ban only stopped them protesting in a particular way. They claimed the ban was not a blanket ban, and the group protest in other areas and ways if they wanted.
The Court disagreed with the government’s actions for two reasons.
First, the judges said that the particular way the protest was taking place (a peaceful camp near the weapons site) was absolutely central to the meaning and essence of the protest. Forcing the group to change the way in which they were protesting would fundamentally undermine their protest. Banning their camp therefore did amount to a blanket ban on their protest.
Second, the judges argued that the government could impose blanket bans on protests. However, the government can only impose blanket bans when they have sufficiently serious reasons for doing so. This because violating the right of protest is a serious violation to human rights. The judges contended that in this case, the government did not give good enough reasons. The ban was therefore unjustified.