University of Birmingham secure High Court order against pro-Palestinian protest camps

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The University of Birmingham is seeking to end a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus 

The University of Birmingham has recently been involved in a legal case with the University of Nottingham concerning pro-Palestinian protest encampments on its campus.

The university sought a High Court order for the possession of the land that had been occupied by the protesters since early May.

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The two educational bodies took separate legal action against "persons unknown" and two named activists as part of bids to the end occupation of areas where tents had been set up since early May.

In two written rulings on Tuesday, the court granted summary possession orders in favour of the universities, concluding that the protesters had “no real prospect” of demonstrating that the university had breached their duties or that an order would be incompatible with their human rights.

The order covers the University of Birmingham’s “Green Heart” outdoor area on its Edgbaston campus, which was the site of more than 80 tents last month. It also includes the Exchange Building in central Birmingham and the Selly Oak campus, although there were no protests at these locations.

They also cover the University of Nottingham's Jubilee Campus, where there were around 10 to 15 tents near the Advanced Manufacturing Building.

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Pro-Palestine camp at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campusPro-Palestine camp at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus
Pro-Palestine camp at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus | SWNS

The court heard that the camps were part of nationwide protests at British universities, held in solidarity with demonstrations in North America and in support of people in conflict-torn Gaza. The protesters, many of whom the universities have been unable to identify, allege that the universities are “complicit” in the loss of life in Palestine and should “divest” from links to arms firms.

Mariyah Ali, a 20-year-old Muslim British-Pakistani student from Walsall, was the only named defendant in the Birmingham case. She argued that the legal action was a “censoring tactic” and discrimination against the “manifestation” of her religious and philosophical beliefs.

Lawyers for the universities accused protesters of trespassing on private land, bringing a risk of public disturbance, causing disruption and financial loss as well as being allegedly linked to "unlawful activities".

Mr Justice Johnson said he came to his two rulings on the assumption that the camps were "peaceful" and did not rule on disputed accounts of alleged disruptive acts.

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The judge said the evidence showed the universities were not trying to regain their land because of the protesters' beliefs and that the legal action was the "least intrusive" way of achieving this.

He said there were "many other ways" activists could exercise their right to protest without occupying land, concluding that protesters were trespassing.

The rulings follow the London School of Economics securing a Central London County Court order indefinitely barring encampments in one of its buildings after students slept in its atrium for more than a month in support of Palestine.

Queen Mary University of London has previously said it would take legal action to secure possession of its Mile End campus if protest encampments did not end.

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Oliver Edwards, a solicitor from law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents Ms Ali, said she was "disheartened" but "remains committed to her cause".

"Protests at universities have a long tradition in democratic society and we maintain that the university is breaching our client's fundamental human rights," he said.

He added that Ms Ali intends to "restate her Boycott Divest Sanctions protest" and was considering appealing.

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