The brother of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will fight lockdown breach charges at trial by claiming his right to protest should not be hampered by government rules, a court heard today.
Piers Corbyn, 73, appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court to deny two charges relating to protests he led at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park against the coronavirus lockdown laws.
It emerged today that Corbyn was fined by police for an anti-lockdown protest outside St Thomas’ Hospital in south London on May 9, prior to his two high-profile arrests in Hyde Park on May 16 and May 30.
As his not guilty pleas were entered, Corbyn’s lawyer Richard Parry said they will rely on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under the European Convention on Human Rights when fighting the charges at trial.
“The issue is a human rights one,"he told the court. “Exercising those rights amounted to a reasonable excuse.”
Mr Parry also took a swipe at Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings over his now-notorious trip to Durham shortly after the lockdown was imposed, saying the appropriateness of government rules are the subject of two High Court challenges and intense public debate.
“The government appears divided and people have many reasonable excuses to advance – some being advanced are accepted by police and some people’s are not," he said.
“Mr Corbyn, in contrast to Dominic Cummings, has a very important point to make – that he should be allowed to exercise his right to protest about this legislation.”
Corbyn, a veteran activist and older brother to Jeremy, was detained by police on May 16 after a crowd of people gathered in central London to oppose government efforts to combat the Covid-19 virus.
He used a megaphone at Speaker’s Corner to denounce the lockdown as “a pack of lies to brainwash you and keep you in order”, and was arrested again at a second demonstration in the park two weeks later.
It is said he did not have a “reasonable excuse” for not following the lockdown rules while participating in the protests.
Prosecutor Misba Majid revealed today: “An incident took place at St Thomas’ Hospital on May 9.
“The defendant was issued with a fixed penalty notice on that occasion. The modus operandi was exactly the same, the defendant was protesting outside the hospital in relation to the lockdown restrictions.”
Corbyn was charged by post over the May 16 protest, and when charged over the May 30 demonstration police imposed conditions banning him from Clapham Common and the City of Westminster.
Mr Parry urged the court today to lift the bail conditions, saying: “This is a peaceful protest by a 73-year-old man, he is protesting about the nature of these very regulations and their wider effect.
“It appears to be the position of the Metropolitan Police Service that protests should be stopped.”
He noted that other forces had taken a different approach, and said no attempt had been made by Scotland Yard to enforce lockdown rules at the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in central London - with police only acting to stop disorder and violence.
“This is a man with a megaphone and perhaps a few leaflets to give out “, he added.
District Judge Samuel Goozee agreed to free Corbyn on unconditional bail as he set the case down for a day-long trial on October 23.
Twelve other people were arrested and charged under the Health Protection Act for alleged lockdown breaches on May 16.
Jeffery Wyatt, 56, of Milton Keynes, Dimitri Pensin, 34, of Pinner, north-west London, Alexander Heaton, 37, of Bow, east London, Princess Rose Morgan, 56, of Lambeth, south London, Philip Hartley, 37, of Doncaster, Yorkshire, Fiona Hine, 35, of Wandsworth, south-west London, Jackub Andrzej, 27, of Ealing, west London, Jaime Stewart, of Wood Green, north London, Ian Jackson, 66, of Wandsworth, south-west London, Donnalee Andrews, 55, of Northampton; and Aleksandrs Rimicans, of Islington, north London, are all due to appear in court on dates in July and August.
Corbyn’s case was heard today after he made an application to lift his bail conditions. He denies two counts of breaching Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.