November 11, 2004

Animal rights protests barred

A giant new building for conducting experiments on animals at Oxford University has been on hold since the contractor withdrew because of protests. But should a new contractor be found, the building is already protected by an injunction against protesters coming within 50 yards of it.

The judge, a Mr. Grigson, said the injunction did not prevent anyone from expressing his views: "What it does restrict is to whom and where he expresses those views." That is, you are free to express your views as long as they don't bother anyone.

The attorney for the university, Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, said the injunction was a win for liberal democracy: "I'm pleased that we're beginning to maintain the right not to be unlawfully harassed in a liberal democracy." That is, if we find protests troubling we can declare them to be illegal, and the liberal principles that depend so much on animal research may continue without the harassment of opposed opinion.

The vice-chancellor of Oxford, John Hood, admitted that the vast majority of protesters had acted within the law: "By obtaining this injunction the University of Oxford is not seeking to stifle the views of those groups and individuals with whom we disagree." Only, as Mr. Justice Grigson made clear, to restrict it, whether it was legal before or not.

The "liberal" principle at work here is that researchers should be able to look out their windows and not be reminded that their work is cruel and meaningless, that people who would harass those noble academics by expressing opposition must be labelled as terrorists or the whole house of cards risks collapse.