The Law Lords today ruled that the police have no powers to control the Critical Mass cycle ride through London.
Under the Public Order Act the organisers of any demonstration or gathering taking place within a defined zone around the Palace of Westminster (which covers most of central London) are required to give the police 30 days notice of their intended route.
The Police decided that the Act applied to the regular Criticial Mass ride and the Court of Appeal agreed with them. The counter argument put by Des Kay, (a regular participant in the rides), and his legal team was that Critical Mass was not an organised ride - so there were no organisers – it was simply the coming together of like-minded individual. They further argued that as Critical Mass follows no pre-determined route it was also impossible for this to be filed with the police in advance.
The House of Lords today over-ruled the Court of Appeal decision which said that the police could demand notice of the ride and the organisers' details.
However Law Lords say the event, which celebrates safe cycling each month, is not governed by the Public Order Act.
Giving the reasons for their ruling Lord Phillips, the senior law lord, said that both Mr Kay and the police had agreed that Critical Mass was not an organisation but the name given to a recurrent event.
In September 2005 the police handed out a letter to all those taking part in the Critical Mass warning them that participation in the even could leave them open to prosecution. This was not true said Lady Hale, another of the Law Lords "
Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 “does not make the procession itself, or mere participation in it, unlawful. Only the organisers commit an offence, if they fail to comply with the notice requirements or the procession actually held differs from the procession notified. Yet the object of the letter must have been to deter everyone involved from taking part.”
The Law Lords went on to point out that if the Government's intention had been to ban processions like Critical Mass they would have done so when framing the legislation.
Commenting on the case Friends of the Earth Rights and Justice Centre, which acted for Mr Kay, said the ruling was an "important victory for the right to peaceful protest and for cyclists to take part in this monthly celebration of cycling".