|Photo Courtesy of Rosie Canning|
The court officials were slightly nonplussed, by the huge turnout and were not sure what to do. Eventually we were all ushered into the courtroom to hear the case brought by Barnet Council. Their case was simple, the occupiers are trespassers and they must be thrown out.
Pete Phoenix made the case for the occupiers. The council have in effect granted a license by entering into negotiations with the occupiers. Until these talks have concluded, it is inappropriate to evict the occupiers. There are also issues with title as the council claim to have lost the title deeds. Given that the land was given to "the people of Barnet for the purposes of a library", and the occupiers have reopened a library, it seems that the council is on rather shaky ground.
The judge was clearly unimpressed with the arguments put forward by the council. The occupiers asked for two things, firstly for the case to be struck out. They stated that if this could not be done, then they asked for a 21 day adjournment to prepare a case, given that they had only two days notice to prepare a case. Given that the council had only asked for a ten minute hearing, there was not time to hear the arguments to strike out the case, so the judge agreed to the request for a 21 day adjournment.
The lawyer representing the council bumbled that this was unacceptable as the occupiers had "no proper case". His protests were summarily dismissed by the judge, who gave the distinct impression that the council had clearly not presented any compelling arguments to support their case.
The judge then asked for an estimate of how long the case would take. The man from Barnet stated that it would be no more than 30 minutes. Mr Phoenix replied that many people wanted to speak and there would be much complicated discussion of land title and legal points. He suggested one or two days. As the council stated that there was no case, the judge agreed that the hearing would be 30 minutes, but if a proper defence was presented, then the case would be adjourned for a full hearing. Given that there clearly is a very robust case, it seems highly unlikely that a 30 minute determination will occur and the case will progress to a full hearing.
The Barnet Eye could not believe that the council had asked for a mere ten minutes to determine the case. We must ask what on earth the councils legal team expected given the strength of public feeling.
Yesterday, the Barnet Eye asked for the council to suspend proceedings until discussions had reached their conclusion, to save the taxpayer money. The council did not have the courtesy to respond, even though they stated they would.
So we have wasted everyones morning. The occupiers are saving the taxpayer money, as there is no longer a requirement for security costing £600 a day. The people of Friern Barnet have a library. Everyone has won, yet the council are still hell bent on this Quixotic charge against common sense.
There was an interesting footnote on the proceedings. The occupiers and their supporters adjourned outside for pictures and interviews with the Press and the Ham and High. As these were going on, the lawyer from Barnet approached the group in a rather surly manner. He demanded that we gave his bag back. We all looked at each other in amazement. It appears that he put it down somewhere and had lost all of the papers relating to the case. It was quite clear from the reaction that people were rather insulted that we'd pinched his bag. We suggested that it might be more sensible to go back into the building and look for it.
That is typical of Barnet Council. They can't even look after their legal documents in a courtroom!
******* Updated 12:46************
The Leader of the Labour Party in Barnet, Alison Moore just released this announcement
Following news that the Judge has granted the ‘Licencees’ occupying Friern Barnet Library a 21 day adjournment to prepare their case to remain in the Library, Leader of Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: “We’re really pleased for the local community. It is unfortunate that the council is persisting with their move to evict the ‘Licencees’ - the legal action could cost thousands in council tax payers money, when the occupiers are saving the council £600 per week in security costs for the building, and they are also providing a Library service to local people. The eviction action should be stopped while negotiations with the ‘Licencees’ continue.”