AWE Aldermaston: legal challenge to denial of the right to freedom of assembly

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A legal challenge to byelaws at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston will be brought by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a member of the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp (AWPC) at the High Court in London on 1 February 2008. The claimant is seeking a judicial review of the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) decision to introduce byelaws which deny AWPC their right to freedom of assembly at the 22-year-old monthly camp.

This case has significance beyond Aldermaston. Restrictions on protest under the byelaws are part of a range of powers, including the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA), which threaten the right to protest at military, nuclear and government sites across the UK.

*Judicial Review: Summary*
It will be argued that the criminalisation of camping (AWPC’s core activity) by the byelaws is unreasonable, unjustified and contrary to Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act. The claimant is seeking a review of: whether the decision taken by the Ministry of Defence to introduce the byelaws was lawful and proportionate; the lawfulness of some of the byelaws; and the refusal of the MoD in May 2007 to fully amend the byelaws following a public consultation period.

An oral hearing on 1st February 2008 will determine whether the High Court will proceed with a judicial review. If the decision is made to proceed, the arguments will be heard immediately.

*Camping as terrorism*
The Aldermaston byelaws were introduced as part of a package of measures to provide “protection against unauthorised trespass and unacceptable activities at military establishments”, including the Nuclear Licensed site at AWE Aldermaston.[1] Other measures included the criminalisation of trespass at the site under Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2006, amending sections 128-9 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA), which entered into force at Aldermaston on 13 April 2006. [2]

On 9 August 2007, charges against ten women arrested under the byelaws were dropped. The women had been charged in June 2007 with “camping” and “lighting a bonfire”. No subsequent arrests have been made by the MoD police, despite subsequent breaches of the byelaws.

*Members of the press are invited to the High Court, The Strand, London on 1 February.*

*Women from the camp will be available for interview and photo call at 9.30 a.m.*

*For further information, contact: 07791 257709 or info@aldermaston.net*

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*Background*
Protest at Aldermaston has increased since 2002, when AWE ml (a consortium of Lockheed Martin, BNFL and Serco) published a Site Development Strategy Plan, which set out plans for the massive redevelopment of the site. New facilities, under construction, will equip the UK government to test, design and build the next generation of nuclear warheads. In March 2007 parliament voted in favour of replacing Trident submarine fleet. Formal decisions on the warheads will be taken in the next four years

The byelaws came into force at Aldermaston on 31 May 2007. [3] They were put out to consultation in April 2006. In their original form, they would have criminalised all forms of protest, including assemblies and processions, handing out leaflets and holding placards. AWPC formally appealed to the Byelaws Review Committee citing the Human Rights Act and, succeeded in removing most of these prohibitions from the final version. However, clauses remain which criminalise “camping in tents, caravans, trees or otherwise”, lighting bonfires and “attach[ing] any thing to, or place any thing [for example, a banner] over any wall, fence, structure or other surface”: activities which form an integral part of the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp.

*Notes*

[1] “Serious Organised Crime and Police Act”, retrieved at http://www.defence-estates.mod.uk/byelaws/Internet/Intro.html

[2] http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060011_en.pdf

[3] http://www.aldermaston.net/news/183