An Occupier’s Perspective: From Dan Ashman, Litigant-in-Person
Submitted by Dan Ashman, Litigant-in-Person in the case of City of London Corporation v Occupy London.
I felt compelled to stand as a litigant-in-person; it was not an intellectual decision. At first I felt no fear. Later, even the possibility of having debts of tens of thousands of pounds wasn’t enough to deter me. I saw the court case as an opportunity to communicate and to find out whether the justice system is just. It did not matter that I’d never stepped inside a court room in my life. I received a lot of earache from those who feared for my future security and many people offered their support, for which I am grateful beyond words.
Building and presenting my case was a true communal effort that forged new relationships. A healthy dose of reading and long discussions about Roman and Common Law kept me occupied while I Occupied. Research and strategy planning often went on right through the night. A relative stranger offered to assist me, I said “Why not?” and things started to fall into place. We referred to each other as ‘unlearned friends’. I arrived in court with no suit, bad breath, barely any sleep and fear in my belly. Then, out of nowhere, an upsurge of optimism rinsed away the what-have-I-done, rabbit-in-headlight state.
According to the City of London Corporation their issue with the Occupy LSX camp has nothing to do with our call for transparency with regards to their financial dealings and undemocratic institutions. It has nothing to do with the reasons for encampment, nothing to do with the just cause, nothing to do with our challenge to the value system that benefits a small number of the global population. No, all the City is concerned about – so they say – is the tents, duvets, sleeping bags and pillows. The pristine buildings filled with people wearing smart attire are not used to dealing with a public who are there to do something more than sightsee.
The Occupy camp has been an education. It has posed many questions and answered some. Why did people in privileged positions allow things to go the way they have? Job losses, tuition fees, slashed pensions, increased living costs. Surely the experts saw this coming, that’s what they get paid for. Who is profiting from the misfortunes? Where did that bail-out money go? I came to Occupy with some knowledge on these subjects and continue to gain more. The community living is a challenge, the energy can be too intense, trust is sometimes difficult to achieve. Our desires to be part of this exist for so many reasons, from international atrocities to winter deaths due to fuel poverty.
The need to be here will remain until respect is practised at every level of society. As long as some human beings continue to claim everything they can to the detriment of others we will need to keep Occupying. The tent city at St Paul’s provides space for visitors from around Britain and the world to reflect on what we are doing and consenting to. For the first time, we’ve had an opportunity to speak plainly to those who have a disproportionate amount of power; we only gained this by camping on their doorstep. It is in the public interest that we are learning about conditions worldwide and starting to identify with people around the globe. What I am really grateful for is the communal exploration of imagination and creativity. The unexpected interactions and the enlightening conversations. Living in camp through the winter months is truly a physical and psychological feat. I certainly have a new found respect for those who spend their life living on the streets of London.
I and my unlearned friend Steve Rushden attempted to tell this story with a four inch thick dossier of reports and news articles. The questioning of the witnesses was quite enjoyable. There were many highlights to these fascinating court-room encounters, one being Cambridge University law students turning up and helping us out on the last day. After everyone had finished their closing statements the judge paid his complements to all those in attendance. For me, it was an honour to work with everyone involved in the court case and to receive help from those who gave it freely. We did everything that we could. I wish to convey that George and Tammy, along with the other witnesses, did themselves proud. And that despite a verdict against us, this isn’t the end, not by a long way.
Waiting outside the court, I looked at all the photographers clicking away at the eccentrically dressed. Familiar faces began to gather and filter through the Royal Court doors. The Occupied Justice Banner gets unfurled and stretches across the front. People offer their support and best wishes. Time ticks down till the court case. The court is packed. The reporters fill the seats at the sides. They are finally going to get their news story. The story that they have been wanting. I think how empty those seats were when we presented our evidence. The Judge reads out his summary. To my surprise no mention is made about my legal argument. In the hearing he looked me in the eye, today it takes a few hours until he does. He breaks after the summary and Tammy mic checks encouraging people to stay. She shows her ability to lead with humor and a warm atmosphere descends for a moment. The next hour or so is spent in legal speak. The judge makes it clear that if anyone attempts to keep the tents we will be in contempt of court. He assures the gathering it is normal for a fine or prison sentence to ensue. John Cooper states his grounds for appeal. Denied. George does the same. Denied. It is my turn. I ask the Judge why my legal argument was not stated in the summary. He affirms he has given his ruling. It comes to light I should of received an email two days previous so I can present a legal ground for appeal. I cant, there was no email. I ask for ten minutes to read it so I can understand. Denied. The solicitors and the Judge work out the time span to launch an appeal in the appeals court. Seven working days is given in light of the fact me or George have not received the email of the judgement. The case ends. I shake the hands of the claimants team and say “I’ll probably see you again soon.”
Outside the court the banner is lifted high in font of the entrance. The media cluster blocks the gateway as John Cooper says his piece affirming, as he did in court, we will appeal. Another mic check. The initial statement is echoed in chorus. We clearly and passionately answer the question of our purpose. The banner is taken down revealing a row of about twelve police. The movement marches down the street among the slow travelling traffic on the road. Two interviews and a few offers of assistance for legal advice later the space outside the court is now vacated.
Indignation is inadequate to describe the feeling I’m left with. Though the support and spirit shown by the contributors of this movement reminds me that this is not the end. If our desire is true, if people genuinely wish to see justice done, then the time will soon come when we don’t ask permission to seek it.
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