Last week saw me doing my stint as duty solicitor for the Law Centre. Amongst the usual array of possession cases is a second hearing in an ASB injunction. This is outside of the scope of the duty solicitor scheme (no possession here), but a bit of pro bono never does any solicitor any harm.
The defendant, who we will call Tyrone, makes drill videos. The council – it really doesn’t matter which council – want to stop him from doing so, at least in the borough. Two months ago they obtained an interim injunction, which prohibits him from going to a number of housing estates in the borough, from filming on any land belonging to the council without prior permission in writing, and from mentioning the borough or any postcodes in the borough in any video.
Tyrone disagrees with the injunction and disputes much of the evidence. His friends live in the areas he is prohibited from visiting. Above all he wants to continue making his videos. We discuss (although he doesn’t use such lawyerly language) fundamental freedoms: freedom of movement; freedom of expression; his freedom as an artist. Obviously I am aware that freedoms are not absolute and may be curtailed for good reason; the danger here is it may be done without a proper examination of the facts and law.
The Council of course present their augment reasonably. It is not that he cannot film on their land, it’s just that like you or me or anyone else he needs permission. The fact that Tyrone would never be granted permission never needs to be said.
The Court provides the formalities of justice. Tyrone was given until a couple of weeks ago to file and serve his evidence. He hasn’t done so. He has no access to advice. He doesn’t understand the need for written evidence when he just wants to say his piece. He doesn’t know how to draft a witness statement. He doesn’t understand cross examination, but in any case most of the evidence is hearsay from anonymous witnesses contained in statements from the council officers and police officers, so when the concept is explained it is not clear to him who he would question.
Like many young men, Tyrone is impatient. He cannot understand why the case cannot be dealt with today, why he will have to come to court again (he has now been twice!), or how court proceedings can take many months. The council’s barrister says the hearing is just to give directions to trial, although the council want to widen the injunction. For a directions hearing the council have bought to court two officers as witnesses, three police officers, a solicitor and barrister.
In the end Tyrone declines my representation. None of the options seem palatable and he wants his voice to be heard. I am left thinking about those fundamental freedoms, the divide between public and private space, how one identifies which is what or who owns and controls what, about equality of arms. Above all I am left wondering what it would be like to be a young black man on my own facing the full might of the British state where every single representative of the state (council officers, police officers, solicitor, barrister and judge) is white.