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Occupy Wall St.

Occupy London enjoys certain legal rights

Christopher Werth Nov 29, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: Protesters with the Occupy Los Angeles movement are asking a federal judge for an injunction to stop the city from evicting them from their camp in downtown LA. Meanwhile, in London, banking giant UBS is working to clear Occupy protesters there who have taken over a big, empty office building.

Christopher Werth explains.

Christopher Werth: Protester Pete Phoenix guides me through the dark four-story building he and dozens of others have occupied for the past week.

Pete Phoenix: In the same way that banks repossess people’s houses, we’ve repossessed this on behalf of, you know, a lot of people.

The protesters have dubbed the building the “Bank of Ideas” — a place where the Occupy movement can discuss solutions to the global economic crisis. They’re holding workshops on things like bank taxes, and have invited community youth groups to move in.

If UBS wants the building back, it’s likely to have a long legal battle ahead of it. The bank has asked a court for permission to evict the protesters, but that could take weeks.

Mark Davies is a property lawyer with the London law firm Healys. He says that’s because, in the U.K., squatters who occupy empty buildings enjoy certain rights.

Mark Davies: What it means effectively is that UBS can’t use force to chuck the squatters out; it’ll have to go through the courts.

In fact, doing so could come with a fine of nearly $8,000. UBS declined an interview request, but in a written statement said it’s “aware of the situation.” The British government is considering a bill that would make squatting a criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in jail. But Leon Glenister of the website, Law Think, says the protesters follow a long tradition rooted in English law.

Leon Glenister: It comes from the old way of doing property, which is that the way old villages would determine who owned certain property would just be who was living there.

Back at the “Bank of Ideas,” Pete Phoenix says the protesters have asked the Swiss bank UBS to let them stay.

Phoenix: Why don’t we all talk to each other? You know maybe the Swiss want to help out with some community projects.

Nearby, protesters have been camped outside St. Paul’s cathedral since October. The City of London has been in court for the past several weeks trying to evict them.

In London, I’m Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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