Saturday, February 13, 2010

CLC Victory for London Church Noise Battle Out of Court

Christian Legal Centre reports,
'For the second time in as many months, a London Council served a Noise Abatement Notice against a Church perceived to be singing too loudly.

In May 2009, Waltham Forest Borough Council issued Immanuel International Christian Ministries with a ‘noise abatement notice’ ordering them to worship ‘more quietly’ or be prosecuted. On appeal
at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Monday 8th February, the Church was successful in amending the Notice.

The notice was amended in the Church’s favour and stated that the Council must agree volume limits with Church leaders and an independent sound engineer in the coming weeks. The new notice will enable the Church to worship without a constant fear of being fined and prosecuted on a very subjective basis. This case has established an important principle that local authorities must have substantive evidence of excessive noise, rather than act subjectively on a few complaints without any objective evidence.

The Council’s delay in reaching a common sense settlement, out of court has severely affected the life of the Church, forcing them to reduce the quantity and duration of weekly services and the church, as a charity, has not been able to hire out the premises. The Church has also spent over £10,000 on sound reducing measures and repeatedly asked for clear and specific guidance from the Council. The Church was originally built in 1894.

The Council Notice had been served against the church following repeated complaints from just one neighbour—a Muslim man who lives in the Church’s former manse. The Church immediately decided to appeal the notice and contacted the Christian Legal Centre, who instructed leading human rights barrister, Paul Diamond, to lead their legal team.

The Christian Legal Centre appealed the notice to the magistrate’s court in October 2009. When this appeal was dismissed, a further appeal was launched in the Crown Court. By amending the notice in the Church’s favour, the Court established an important principle—namely that any decision to serve a Noise Abatement Notice must be objectively verifiable by means of an independent Sound Level and not at the subjective whim of an Enforcement Officer.

Speaking after the case, Pastor Dunni said: “We are grateful for the assistance of the Christian Legal Centre and are happy with today’s success. However, we are also frustrated that things have had to get this far before the Council agreed to be reasonable with us. We have been trying to reach a solution with the Council and our neighbour for months but it has taken two court decisions—costing the Council and its taxpayers thousands of pounds—for them to start working with us. We are glad that common sense prevailed at the Court and we will work with the Council for a sensible resolution.”

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “The Christian Legal Centre has been increasingly concerned at the use of Noise Abatement Notices to limit Church growth and is concerned that these acts may be motivated by opposition to Christian teaching. This case demonstrates that the courts are not prepared to accept vague notices such as the one issued by the Council. To be told by a local authority that you must stop noise of an ‘excessive volume’ on threat of being fined and prosecuted does not accord with the principle of legal certainty. Hopefully, this decision by the Court will warn other Council’s that they cannot use such vague notices to prevent the normal running of a Church.”'

Christian Legal Centre
http://www.christianlegalcentre.com

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