Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Aldermaston women win camp fight

Aldermaston march 1960
Aldermaston protests are an annual affair, like this one in 1960

Anti-nuclear weapons campaigners have won a battle to quash a special "no camping" by-law which could have put an end to their famous women's peace camp.

The by-law banned "camping in tents, caravans, trees or otherwise" near the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston in Berkshire.

But senior judges overturned the decision on Thursday.

Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp (AWPC), which brought the action, said it was a victory for the "right to protest".

Campaigners had lost their original High Court case arguing the ban unlawfully interfered with freedom of expression and contradicted the right of assembly guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are liable to be a nuisance
Lord Justice Laws

But Lord Justice Laws, Lord Justice Wall and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton overturned the decision and claimed a "pressing social need" for the ban was not shown.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, peace camp spokeswoman Sian Jones said: "We are absolutely delighted by today's outcome.

"[It] is not only a victory for the women's peace camp but an important judgment on the right to protest.

"We are a legal form of protest and have been for the last 25 years at Aldermaston.

"Now our peace camp is no longer criminalised.

1958 rally
Some 10,000 people joined the 1958 rally march

"The judgment gives us renewed energy to carry on our opposition to the government's plans for development of a new generation of nuclear weapons at Aldermaston."

AWPC member Kay Tabernacle, who led the action, said: "For the past 23 years the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has sought to get rid of the peace camp.

"Yet despite years of harassment, evictions and false arrests by the MoD, women have continued their long-standing protest against Britain's weapons of mass destruction because we knew we must speak out against nuclear weapons."

Allowing the appeal by the women, Lord Justice Laws said: "Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are liable to be a nuisance.

"They are liable to be inconvenient and tiresome, or at least perceived as such by others who are out of sympathy with them.

"Sometimes they are wrong-headed and misconceived.

"Whether or not the AWPC's cause is wrong-headed or misconceived is neither here not there, and if their activities are inconvenient or tiresome, the Secretary of State's shoulders are surely broad enough to cope."

Lord Justice Wall said he was unimpressed with government arguments that the prohibition on camping was merely a means of redirecting the protest and not of extinguishing it.

He said there was also no evidence that the protest was incompatible with the running of the establishment.

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who represented Ms Tabernacle, said the result was "a resounding victory".

Gavin Sullivan, solicitor at PIL, said: "This is a landmark legal victory affirming the fundamental right to protest in the face of the UK government's widespread attempts to criminalise legitimate political dissent."

AWE provides the warheads for Trident - the submarine-launched missile system that constitutes the UK's nuclear deterrent.

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