Camden New Journal: Buskers set up new ‘religion’

Camden New Journal: Buskers set up new ‘religion’

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Published by Pavan Amara on 27th March 2014 in the Camden New Journal.

BUSKERS in Camden Town say their “religious freedoms” are being threatened by the Town Hall after forming a new religion that deifies “the humble kazoo”.

The move comes after the buskers lost a High Court battle over Camden Council’s new licensing policy for street performers.

The rules, which came into force on Monday, demand they have licences, ban amplified music and set a 9pm curfew for performances.

Signs have gone up in Camden Town warning buskers they need licences.

Instruments can be confiscated under the new rules, which the Town Hall says it introduced to protect residents from disturbance.

In the latest protest, musician campaigners say the council cannot ban their “religion”, which does not have a name yet but centres around music and instruments.

On Monday, around a dozen buskers performed close to Camden Town underground station without a licence. They then called police, the council’s noise service, Town Hall leader Councillor Sarah Hayward and community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai to alert them to the performance. They said that an attempt to remove them would be a threat to their religious rights.

Neither police nor the council responded, and both councillors failed to answer their phones.

Busker Jonny Walker told a crowd of onlookers outside the HSBC bank branch in Camden High Street: “We are forming a religion. You do not have to drop out of your own religion to join. We are welcoming everyone from atheists to Christians, to Muslims and Jews, Hindus and every other belief you may already be a part of.

“We are very open. But we are a religion that respects music and our right to perform in the borough of Camden with freedom. We have hymns, and we believe in the holy triad of kazoos. We want to practise our religion in peace.”

Comedian Mark Thomas, who is campaigning for buskers’ rights, said “out of all the things the council could have done, they chose to criminalise busking without a licence”.

He added: “Talking with us to find the best code of practice would have been the way forward. Instead, we have this stupid law. Labour particularly has a habit of passing laws when they are not needed. This is not a good enough reason for a law.

“Camden is the London borough of music. Why would they do this, unless they want to change that? It could be that they are trying to change the tone of the borough, and want to gentrify it.”

A High Court judge ruled earlier this month that Camden’s policy – and the way it was introduced – was not unlawful.

Licensing committee chair Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust said:  “I am pleased with the judgment handed down by the High Court.  We had to adopt this regulation to address ongoing nuisance suffered by residents and to prevent public spaces from being monopolised.

“The court has affirmed that regulation is not prohibition and we look forward to a responsible busking scene living alongside our residents.”

Response To High Court Decision

Response To High Court Decision

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Next Stop: The Court of Appeal!

Our date with Lady Justice was bittersweet. Our barrister David Wolfe QC convincingly put forward the case that Camden’s scheme is unlawful. It is too wide, it even criminalises unamplified singing in the streets for fun and spans the entire geographical breadth of Camden turning all public spaces into ‘no go areas’ for ‘unauthorised’ live music when the vast majority of complaints pertain to Camden Town. It interferes with Article 10 Rights (Freedom of Expression) in a manner and to an extent that is in no way justified by any pressing social need. Musical ideas are entitled to protection just as written and political ideas are, and they often intertwine as Pete Seger, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and many others could attest. What does it say about our society when playing music or singing for your pleasure and that of other people is turned into a potential criminal offence subject to draconian police-backed license controls?

Camden’s barrister was reduced to repeating the Orwellian proposition that this scheme was ‘light touch regulation’ and would actually ENCOURAGE and PROMOTE busking. In defiance of modern understandings of physics and physiology, Camden Council’s Licensing Officer stated that the human voice box itself is a form of amplification and therefore needs to be licensed. Their barrister argued that the protections afforded to buskers under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act are engaged at a low level. To argue this he used the case of Miss Behavin’ Ltd vs Belfast City Council, a sex shop that was refused a license. Whilst he made clear he wasn’t suggesting a direct equivalence between selling pornography and singing in the streets, his argument was the article 10 rights of would-be street artists and musicians are engaged at a low level which makes it easier to justify an interference with them.

I’m sorry to say that Mrs Justice Patterson sided with Camden Council:

“… the Defendant has adopted a policy which, in my judgement, is both necessary and a proportionate response to the issue of busking. It has striven to introduce a policy which holds the ring between promoting economic growth through fostering dynamic busking activity across the Borough but balancing that with the requirements of its residents and other economic activity which contributes to the well being of Camden. It has done so in a way which, in my judgement, is lawful.” [Para 122]

Quite how criminal records, £1000 fines, instrument confiscations and fire-sales serve to ‘foster dynamic busking activity’ I leave to your imagination. The mention of ‘promoting economic growth’ I also found confusing as if street music was an impediment to the transnational flow of capital, but Camden Town Unlimited, a Business Improvement District which represents major businesses in Camden welcomed the ruling too.

Rosa Curling, a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing Keep Streets Live Campaign said:

“We will now seek permission to take this decision to the Court of Appeal. The Council’s draconian licensing policy is unnecessary, unlawful and threatens the very essence of what makes Camden such an important cultural space.”

The generous support of many hundreds of people enabled us to bring this historic High Court Challenge.
We are disappointed that Mrs Justice Patterson has seemingly taken at face value Camden’s argument that people making music on the streets have a low level of protection under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. This has much wider implications for the way music is valued in contemporary society. We profoundly disagree with her judgment and, despite the £7500 cost award against us, will seek to have this case heard by the Court of Appeal.

Cultural freedom and political freedoms are closely intertwined. Under Camden’s scheme it would be illegal to sing a protest song without a license as part of a static protest. From our perspective this makes the excessive interference with Article 10 rights clear and unambiguous. In a democratic society singing in the street should never be a potentially criminal offence. The Metropolitan Police lobbied hard for this policy and will be closely involved in the process of granting and refusing licenses. That, in itself, is worrying especially in light of recent revelations about the conduct of the Met. The police and local authorities have ample powers already to deal with genuine crime, noise nuisance and disorder. In my view they should use the powers they already have and targeting them at people who are causing genuine harm to others to promote the common good.

 

This campaign has been a real challenge at times, but also a beautiful experience as I have met so many wonderful people who value artistic and cultural freedoms and are willing to stand up for lowly buskers (It was my privilege on Monday to visit the House of Lords for a meeting with Lord Clement-Jones and Viscount Clancarty who are great supporters of the arts alongside senior cultural officers from the Greater London Authority and a pioneering musical advocate and professional jazz drummer, Hamish Birchall). With this in mind we are empowered to constructively and creatively challenge this damaging new law, and have our say about the place of informal performances of art and music in the ongoing civic life of our nation. Camden Council, I’m afraid we are not going to go away!

 

You can support our ongoing fundraising at this link (Which is rather more pressing in the light of the costs awarded against us!), but comments, suggestions and words of encouragement (or criticism!) are also most welcome,

 

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/keep-streets-live-uk/x/2921332

With love,

Jonny Walker
Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign
http://keepstreetslive.com
https://www.facebook.com/groups/keepstreetslivecamden

IndyRikki: High Court gives green light to Camden anti-busking law

Published by IndyRikki on 11th March 2014.

See the IndyRikki article here.

If you sing in the street or a park in the London Borough of Taliban, and a passer-by appreciates your voice, the authorities can surgically remove your vocal tract and sell it on the black market. Ok, that may be a marginally excessive interpretation of the law, but it’s not far off!

Camden’s new powers define busking as ‘provision of entertainment in the street’, so if you haven’t applied and paid for a busking licence and you ARE singing, you’re OK as long as it’s awful and no-one is entertained, but the moment a passer-by enjoys it you have actually stepped over the legal threshold and will be committing a criminal offence. If you have an instrument, they CAN seize and sell it if you don’t pay up to £1000 fine. The barrister representing the joyless Labour council agreed in court that this interpretation of the law was accurate. After a legal challenge, this morning’s decision by Judge Mrs. Justice Patterson, means the laws will now be in force throughout the Borough.

Rolled-Up Hearing

The hearing took place at the High Court on the 27th and 28th Feb, and was a ‘rolled-up hearing’ which means the judge decides whether there are grounds for a Judicial Review, and then if so, decides the outcome of that JR at the same time.

The case was brought against Camden Council by professional busker and founder of the Keep Streets Live campaign, Jonny Walker, who, through crowd-funding,  managed to raise much of the money needed to ensure he’d be able to pay agreed ‘protected costs’ in the worst possible outcome of a failed challenge and costs awarded against him.

Leigh Day solicitors hired the services of barrister David Wolfe QC, and Camden turned up in court with their legal team and two barristers, led by Clive Sheldon QC.

I sat in court both days, and heard the legal arguments, which I’ll try to distill down here. At the end of the first day, I was not very optimistic, because the judge, Mrs. Justice Patterson, seemed to be quite combative with David Wolfe, very accommodating with Mr. Sheldon, and was concerned to know how long they’d each need on the second day because she was “mindful that Camden wanted to get on and implement the legislation” and she was hoping to be able to give them a verdict before the weekend!

As it turned out, David Wolfe took his time on the Friday, and also gave her rather a lot to think about, so the hand-down was postponed a further week.

Legal Arguments

Camden’s proposed licensing scheme is based on powers given them under the London Local Authorities Act 2012. This Act allows London authorities to issue penalty notices, create licensing schemes, and gives them other powers to combat identified public nuisance.

Camden Council claim that they have identified busking as causing serious public nuisance in the Borough, and that they have brought in a “light touch” licensing regime which will “encourage” busking in the area while controlling situations that have been identified as causing problems.

Their scheme is Borough-wide, and forces buskers to apply for a license. If the musician intends to use any amplification, they have to jump through all sorts of hoops, pay a higher fee, and wait for weeks. Otherwise, they pay a £19 fee several days in advance, and are still subject to all manner of conditions. Breach of conditions, or busking without a licence, is a criminal offence, with up to £1000 fine, and Camden also have the power to seize musical instruments and/or amplification equipment, and sell it if any fine is unpaid.

The challenge had two main aspects. First, David Wolfe questioned whether Camden had provided enough evidence to trigger the legislation in the first place. Second, he questioned whether the legislation was compatible with human rights convention requirements over freedom of expression.

Camden mainly relied on a log of over a hundred telephone complaints received by the Council, but Mr. Wolfe went through these in detail, questioning whether they showed evidence that busking had been, is being, or is likely to cause ‘undue nuisance’. Camden’s scheme exempts certain groups and activities, including, for instance, morris dancers and Hare Krishna drummers. He pointed out that most entries on the log provided unsatisfactory information to be able to reach any conclusion about ‘undue nuisance’, and that one of the complaints was about morris dancers, and so won’t be resolved, and others spoke of ‘drummers’ which may well have been the exempt Krishnas given the absence of any other info.

He spoke at length about possible absurd scenarios raised by the rules. ‘Busking’ is defined as ‘provision of entertainment in the street’ (not necessarily for gain), so he gave example of someone singing a song on a sunny day on the way to work. If singing to himself, he is free to carry on, but if a fellow pedestrian starts enjoying the song and is entertained by it, then the singer starts to commit a criminal offence, and would have to either stop singing, or ask the other person to go away. A similar scene might be a young lad singing and playing the guitar in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. No problem there, and no licence required. As he’s particularly talented though, he draws a small crowd. He’s now become a criminal! Mr. Wolfe pointed out that under the human rights convention it was imperative for any criminal transgression to be “sufficiently foreseeable” which clearly it was not.

Although, Camden of course said they wouldn’t enforce the law in that situation, and a judge wouldn’t convict even if they did, the obvious response from the challengers is, why make it law then?

In terms of human rights, the argument is whether the restrictions are proportionate, respond to a pressing need, and that no less restrictive means are available to control the problem.

Camden claimed that it’s not over-restrictive because people can still busk in the rest of the country!

Mr. Wolfe referred to case law to show that supervision should be strict over ANY restriction, and that just because SOME singers MAY have caused genuine NUISANCE in a certain AREA at a PARTICULAR TIME, this couldn’t give rise to a restriction on ALL singers throughout the whole Borough at all times.

Camden stuck by their complaints log to show a ‘pressing need’, and they claimed other laws were not adequate to combat problems.

Mr. Wolfe pointed out that “less restrictive means” didn’t necessarily mean other already available law, and that Camden had framed bad legislation which could be rewritten to be far less restrictive. He asked also why the complaint log hadn’t contained an “action taken” column. This might have provided further evidence, but its absence suggested Camden may have actually breached an existing Section 79 requirement to respond to complaints, instead writing new legislation that may have been entirely unnecessary.

The hearing finished at around 3.30 on the Friday, and Mrs. Justice Patterson said she had plenty to ponder, was away the following week, and so would not be able to hand-down her verdict until this week.

This morning, the High court delivered its verdict backing the Council’s new policy. Jonny’s solicitors will lodge an appeal.

Statement by the Keep Streets Live Campaign:

“The generous support of many hundreds of people enabled to bring an historic High court challenge against Camden’s decision to introduce compulsory licenses for any person wishing to sing or play music in a public space within the borough.

We believe that the scheme is too wide in its definition of busking, that it has been introduced in response to inadequate evidence, to apply across the entire geographical area of the borough, and that it is disproportionate for the purposes of the Human Rights Act by interfering with the right to Freedom of Expression in a way which is neither necessary nor proportionate.

In the light of these points, which were convincingly argued in the High Court, we are disappointed that Mrs. Justice Patterson has seemingly taken at face value Camden’s argument that people making music on the streets have a low level of protection under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, and has ruled that Camden’s sceme is necessary, proportionate and lawful.

We profoundly disagree with her judgement and will now seek to have this case heard by the Court of Appeal and to ask Camden not to enforce their policy unitl the case is heard by a higher court.

Informal and spontaneous performances of music are a vital part of Camden’s rich and diverse cultural heritage and need to be protected. Under Camden’s policy, even singing a protest song without a licence could be a criminal offence. From our perspective this makes the excessive interference with Article 10 rights clear and unambiguous. In a democratic society, singing in the streets should never be a potential criminal offence.

On behalf of the Keep Streets Live campaign I would like to re-iterate our desire to work alongside Camden Council and residents to address their genuine concerns and to develop a collaborative ‘best practice’ guide for busking, if they will withdraw their contentious policy.

In Liverpool, which like Camden, is a city famous for music and grassroots culture, we are working alongside the local council to develop practical guidance for street entertainment that works for all parties.

We invite Camden to learn from this approach and work with us, and not against us.”