Council deaf to busker's plea

By any standards, the issue of a warrant entitling Westminster City Council to seize equipment used by a busker is unusual. But the warrant issued by Bow Street Magistrates Court gave the council the right to enter London's Leicester Square and seize the equipment of busker Bruno McDonald. And as solicitor Richard Barca, representing McDonald, pointed out, it seems strange that the authority which owns Leicester Square should need a court warrant to go there.

But in the High Court, Mr Justice Dyson ruled that the council was entitled to its warrant and upheld its seizure of McDonald's equipment.

Now that decision has been overturned by the Court of Appeal. Lords Justices Schiemann and Nourse and Sir Ralph Gibson ruled that while the council was entitled to a warrant to enter a premises under the London Local Government Act 1963, Leicester Square could not be classed as a premises.

Counsel Charles Salter, on behalf of McDonald, argued in the Court of Appeal that a public place such as Leicester Square could not be legally classified as a premises and therefore the warrant used in the seizure of McDonald's equipment was invalid.

In giving the Court of Appeal judgment, Lord Justice Schiemann said it was a case which raised "questions of importance to buskers in London". He said the provisions of the 1963 Act were designed for the control of premises to which members of the public were invited for public entertainment, not for control of entertainment such as busking in public places.

And he said one oddity of the action was that if the council was right in its arguments, then it had been guilty of "persistently breaking the law" by tolerating buskers on its land.

For Barca, of two-partner, Soho-based firm Wilson Barca, the case was the latest in a long line of skirmishes with Westminster City Council; past battles have been fought on behalf of ice-cream salesmen who have found themselves targeted by the council.

But Barca said McDonald's fight is not over yet. While he has won an important ruling over the legal definition of public areas, there is a further hearing waiting in the wings. There is now a damages claim pending which the council is defending on grounds that it was entitled to rely on the warrant issued by Bow Street Magistrates Court, even though the Court of Appeal held that the warrant was unlawfully issued.

McDonald is seeking damages for damage he claims was caused to his equipment and for loss of busking earnings during the several weeks that his equipment was confiscated from him.