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Campaigners go to the High Court over 'Busking Law'

Keep Streets Live Campaign to go to the High Court to challenge Camden Council 'busking licence’

25 February 2014

The not-for-profit organisation, Keep Streets Live Campaign, will go to the High Court on Thursday (27th February 2014) to challenge the decision by Camden Council to impose a ‘busking licence’ across the borough of Camden, covering approximately 22km2 of Greater London.

Under the Council’s new regime, whistling, telling a joke or singing in the street will require a licence.

In the letter before action sent to the Chief Executive of Camden Council in November last year, law firm Leigh Day stated that the decision to licence busking was unlawful for several reasons.

Leigh Day argued that the definition of busking was not sufficiently clear and that there was a lack of evidence on what negative impact busking was having in the area.

Following an unsatisfactory response to the letter Leigh Day, on behalf of Keep Streets Live Campaign, issued formal legal proceedings in December 2013.

This two-day judicial review starting on Thursday will test the council’s arguments for licensing in the High Court, in a bid, by those who oppose it, to reverse the decision.

Rosa Curling, a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing Keep Streets Live Campaign said:

“These measures are unlawful. There is very little evidence of disturbance and the definition of busking in the proposals put forward by the Council is not clear. Under this new policy, whistling in the street could now face a fine of £1000, which is clearly ludicrous.

“The Council already have a variety of measures available to it should a tiny minority of residents be disturbed. This draconian licensing policy for busking is not the solution to this issue and its implementation, across the whole of the Borough, is likely to stifle the creative and vibrant area that Camden has become, in part due to the live music and entertainment performed in the area.”

Jonny Walker, Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign Limited, said:

“This legal challenge has become necessary because Camden Council have chosen to ignore a petition signed by over 6000 people, the advice of the Musician’s Union and the will of its cultural and artistic community by introducing a new law that turns Camden into one the most restricted boroughs in the entire UK for informal offerings of music and street performance in public spaces, and sets a potentially damaging precedent for policies in the rest of the UK.

“Under this new legal framework, playing the guitar and singing in the street, even just for fun and not for donations, will be a criminal offence punishable by a £1000 fine and instrument confiscations, unless a licence is first obtained.

“Camden Council risk doing permanent damage to the cultural life of this important part of London by an attack on the grassroots performers who are such an important part of its social and cultural fabric. This legislation is an incredibly blunt instrument that will have a detrimental effect on the life of the borough by effectively turning all buskers into potential criminals. For a London Borough with an international reputation for fostering live music, culture and the arts this policy is very damaging.

“We do not have the financial resources to take on a local authority with its budget of millions alone, and so have started a crowd-funding campaign on the popular website Indiegogo to raise funds from our supporters around the world. Artist and musicians across the UK have kindly offered to perform free gigs to help us raise money quickly. We are saddened that a legal challenge has become necessary but Camden have left us with no choice.

“If Camden Council are willing to abandon their contentious legislation, our legal challenge will become unnecessary and we can begin to work together on a more collaborative policy that protects the diverse and vibrant cultural life of the borough whilst addressing the legitimate concerns of residents. We hope that, even at this late stage, Camden accept our open invitation for further dialogue by shelving this damaging law for good"

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