The Criminal Justice Act

The CJA - A Party Person's Perspective
By Alan Lodge


PlodAs of the 3rd November 1994, the noxious Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill became an Act, i.e. law, and approximately 90 arrests have already been made. The majority of these have been for aggravated trespass in connection with hunt saboteuring. As of December [1994] there appears to have been no arrests (or 5000 pound fines) for squatting, nor for party (or as the Act defines it 'rave') organisations or sound systems confiscated. This article will mostly concern the latter. Party and festival organisers and attenders must remain optimistic; it is the very intention of this legislation to engender an atmosphere of fear, that is the true deterrent power of the law. It may be a long time before this Act is rigidly enforced, the police (whom in several cases opposed the Act) will remain unsure both of the details of new powers and their ability to enforce them.

PlodFor instance, although the police now have the power to legally roadblock parties (thus admitting that this was previously illegal), the practicalities of arresting what could amount to hundreds of people on a weekly basis are not realistic. It would require a huge police operation for each party, soon bankrupting most forces. The real way that the Act could work against us is through collective fear and ignorance. If all present cross police roadblocks en masse, it will be impossible for them to enforce. All party-goers, therefore, and for that matter everyone affected by the Act should understand it and carry on raising a collective two fingers.

PlodThe Act operates as a scare tactic, and the police themselves are split in their appraisal of the CJA. In two recent issues of Police Review, two particular articles have demonstrated this division. In the Nov. 94 magazine, David Wilmot (Chief Constable of Greater Manchester and successor to the greatest Moses imitator of recent times) basically argues that the police are 'the most visible representatives of the State' and are being pushed unwillingly into civil (i.e. non-criminal) areas. He admits that 'the pressure on us is to deliver what is, in essence, civil-law enforcement'. So, one copper thinks that the Act goes too far.

PlodHowever, one week later (Nov 25 issue Police Review) Detective Chief Inspector Ray Newman argues that the Act goes nowhere near far enough. This is where party organisers/sound systems/party-goers can take some cheer. He proceeds to outline what he sees as the flaws (i.e. positive points for us) of the Act in relation to 'raves'. These are the exact arguments that can be employed at the party site, or if the worst comes to the worst, the police station. Mr. Newton's ideological stall is set out with no messing: "legislation was clearly needed to deal with people attending unlawful raves, and to empower officers to enter sites without warrants and disperse those present - organisers or ravers - and to seize all equipment'!!! To whom was this clear? Is it clear to all that party-goers need dispersing?

PlodHe goes on to say that the Act 'may not be as extensive as the police had hoped, or as ravers had feared '! His first moan, and our first ray of sunlight, is that the Act only applies to 'raves' in the open air. He concludes that 'factories, warehouses and aircraft hangars would appear to fall outside the legislation' - so plenty of parties available there, in the police's own words. Next he examines the 'serious distress' section and concludes 'some distress is not enough, it must be serious'. So if a party is more than a couple of miles away from the nearest village/town/city, it would be very hard, according to DCI Newman, to prove serious distress. Also it apparently replaces the police power to use public nuisance in 'minor level distress ' to the community.

PlodThe next admission that Newman makes is that 'careless handling' of systems belonging to innocent parties should be avoided as it may lead to the police being sued. He advises taking a photo and keeping the system on site until the owner can be traced . One way in which many systems have avoided confiscation is by someone playing the straight hire company/having receipts for the equipment/a contract and having a good story, especially as the Act makes allowance for 'forfeiture' ( i.e. no get back!) unless the order may affect the owner's livelihood. Mr. Newman's next problem with the Act (our next loophole) is that Motorway exits and roads cannot be closed/blocked more than 5 miles away from the party site. This would presumably make last summer's blocking of the M5 by the police unlawful.

PlodThe next area of interest to us is the section which states that the Act applies whether those present are 'trespassers or not'. The meaning of this is unclear, as these three words fundamentally alter the law, until now the police have been very reluctant to move in on private land, where the party is happening with the landowner's consent. Although this is apparently changed, it is unlikely that the police will start to get heavy handed and seize systems from private land, and so a party on permissioned land will probably be left alone. Generally DCI Newman has a moan because he feels the new powers are insufficient to deal with 'unsafe, unlawful raves'. Although a marquee in a field is probably the safest form of mass entertainment available (compare it to a club or a football match), we must take heart from police uncertainty.

PlodRemember most plod don't understand the Act any better than we do, and will often gain their knowledge from articles such as this. Know your rights and remember that actually talking to the cops , rather than shouting at them (even if this takes superhuman effort against frequent police aggression), the party may go on and the system may make it home. Whatever the law, senior police will not create public order problems where they can avoid it. The real result of the new legislation will not be to kill off the free party but the big free festival. It is this, in the wake of Castlemoreton, that the powers are designed to deal with, and it is realistically very difficult to envisage any more huge festivals next summer. However these things are cyclical, and will at some point return. Although we all know that the police often act outside their power, whatever the law, and negotiation is often not on their agenda, it is the climate that the Act creates, rather than the letter of a largely unworkable law.

So cheer up and party on!

For more information about the Criminal Justice Act please contact: RIGHT TO PARTY, P.O. BOX CJA,15 GOOSEGATE, HOCKLEY, NOTTINGHAM. ALAN LODGE, E-Mail:


LIBERTY, 21 Tabard Street, London SE1 4LA. Tel: 0171 403 3888. Fax: 0171 407 5354

You should also contact LIBERTY at the above address if you wish to report a CJA-related incident as part of their Public Order Monitoring Project.

Back to Previous Page