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Limits to Protest

There has been an interesting debate about the question as to whether or not there are limits to protest.

I have always taken the view that there are limits to protest. The limits are determined by the consequences of protest. If someone dies or is seriously hurt as a result of the protest then the protest has gone too far. Similarly if there is serious vandalism then also the protest has gone too far.

Protest is always going to be a bit of a nuisance to someone. However, people do have the right to protest. I have been supportive (and remain supportive) of the democracy village outside parliament.

The question where there has been more of a debate over is whether the actions of protestors should lead to their actions being counter productive.

This goes to the centre of the vote in parliament about tuition fees. In fact there had been an amendment tabled to defer the decision. This amendment was not selected by The Speaker for a vote on it.

I would not be surprised if there were people who were of the view that the decision had to be taken and not deferred because in part of the uncontrolled nature of the protests and the need to move on.

My own view, as I have made clear, is that the proposals to have a progressive graduate contribution were a reasonable way forward. They may not be a perfect way forward. However, it benefits the less well off members of society and as such was one I felt I should support.

There was an argument that the decision on the amount of money that universities get should have been deferred. However, the Universities need to do their planning for people who start studying in September 2012 by March 2011. That is the main reason for making the quantum decision at such an early stage.

It remains that the decision as to what students pay when they graduate has not been made although general principles have been stated.

Returning to the issue of the limits of protest, however. It is quite clear that violent protests are likely to cause decisions that could be delayed to be taken earlier. I do not think that is an unreasonable position to take although there was in the end no vote taken on whether or not to delay the decision.

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R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

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KING’S BENCH DIVISION

R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

November 9 1923

Editor’s comments in bold.

Here, the magistrates’ clerk retired with the bench when they were considering a charge of dangerous driving. The clerk belonged to a firm of solicitors acting in civil proceedings for the other party to the accident. It was entirely irrelevant that there had been no evidence of actual influence brought to bear on the magistrates, and the conviction was duly quashed.

LORD HEWART CJ:
It is clear that the deputy clerk was a member of the firm of solicitors engaged in the conduct of proceedings for damages against the applicant in respect of the same collision as that which gave rise to the charge that the justices were considering. It is said, and, no doubt, truly, that when that gentleman retired in the usual way with the justices, taking with him the…

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