The University of Sussex has been granted a High Court injunction banning students from entering or remaining inside administration buildings on campus without written consent of management.
The application was made and granted by the Judge on 3 March, the same day as the Sussex House occupation and was pasted onto the entry to Falmer House the next day.
A university spokesperson said that the move had come in response to a sit-in protest at Sussex House, when around 50 students occupied the administration building, resulting in a tense 5-hour police standoff.
Sit-ins, also known as occupations, have played a significant part in the history of the University of Sussex since its formation. In the late 1960s, Sussex’s reputation for left-wing radicalism meant that at the peak of student discontent, sit-ins in administration buildings were a weekly occurrence.
Until now occupations were not considered a criminal offence, as trespass law in the UK is considered a civil matter.
Criminal charges may ordinarily only be applied if the trespass is considered “aggravated.” During the occupation in Bramber House on 8 February, the police did not deem the overall nature of the trespass as aggravated and hence did not attempt to charge the occupants under criminal law.
However, at the more recent Sussex House occupation, some members of the senior management team refused to leave their offices without a substantial police escort, despite assurances from the students that they would be treated “courteously” – a promise kept when the rest of the staff left the building.
According to the police negotiator, this meant that staff were being “held against their will” and escalated the event into a hostage situation, which gave the police a pretext for entering the building. “They alleged that the staff were being held against their will which was completely untrue,” said one student present, who spoke to police.
“This was made abundantly clear to the officers throughout the day – we repeatedly offered entry to campus security staff – suggesting that if the remaining staff really felt the need to be escorted out of the building, they could be accompanied by up to six member of campus security.”
Now that the High Court injunction has come into effect, however, the police have the authority to remove any person from buildings on campus whether or not they have committed aggravated trespass, essentially outlawing even peaceful demonstrations. The “verge injunction” limited Smash EDO’s protests to being precariously performed on the edge of a 4ft grass verge overlooking a steep drop down to a railway line.
A spokesperson for the university stated that the injunction “does not prevent peaceful protest action carried out without the threat of occupation,” implicitly acknowledging that the move would indeed prevent peaceful protests where occupations or sit-ins were a possibility.