Lecturer disputes demo notice law

Arrested protester challenges police's requirement for six days' warning. Melanie Newman reports

May 7, 2009

A University of Portsmouth lecturer arrested for public disorder is challenging a legal requirement to give the police six days' notice of an organised protest.

John Molyneux, senior lecturer in historical and theoretical studies, appeared in Portsmouth magistrates' court in April to face charges in connection with a protest he organised against Israeli military action in Gaza. He pleaded not guilty to charges of breaking the Public Order Act by failing to give the required notice before the demonstration on 3 January.

Mr Molyneux told Times Higher Education that he was acting to prevent a bigger crime because Palestinian civilians were dying during the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, which continued until a ceasefire on 17 January. He also argued that the six-day notice period represented a breach of his civil right to protest.

The lecturer said: "There are many situations in which it is not reasonable to require six days' notice before protests: if somebody is about to be unjustly deported in three days, for example. If somebody has been killed by the authorities, as in the Jean Charles de Menezes case, is it reasonable to have to wait six days before protesting? If a company can announce the closure of a factory with immediate effect, why should the workers have to wait six days?"

The academic called a Palestinian lecturer from the University of Southampton, Suleiman Abu-Sharkh, as a witness at the trial on 18 April.

"I was told that I couldn't question him because the case was purely administrative, but I argued that the issue was bigger than that," he said.

On the suggestion of the magistrate, Mr Molyneux applied for an adjournment. His arguments will be presented at a pre-hearing, and the case will restart on 20 August.

Mr Molyneux asked the court for permission to call Superintendent David Peacock, the senior officer in charge of policing the demonstration, as a defence witness, but he was refused a witness summons.

"I've taken part in many demonstrations without notice, and nobody has been arrested," the academic said.

"On the day of the demonstration, I was served with a piece of paper with details of the legislation while I was standing on the Guildhall steps before the march. I told the crowd I would be arrested if I led the march, so I didn't lead it."

Mr Molyneux is no stranger to controversial police decisions: he said he had been arrested while collecting money for miners during a strike in the 1980s and charged with begging.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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