Court upholds busking ban

Posted: 11th March 2014

Street entertainerStriking a balance between the cultural benefits of street entertainment and the right of property owners and businesses to be free from noise and other nuisance, the High Court has upheld a local authority scheme which will see buskers in its area prosecuted if they fail to obtain a licence and abide by a code of conduct.

Keep Streets Live Campaign Limited (KSLC), a not-for-profit group representing the interests of street entertainers, mounted a judicial review challenge to the licensing regime adopted by the London Borough of Camden. The scheme required buskers to pay a £47 licence fee and exposed them to fines of up to £1,000, and seizure of their instruments and equipment, if they failed to comply with its terms.

It was submitted that complaints from residents and businesses about noise and other disturbance caused by busking had been overstated and that the imposition of the scheme across the borough was disproportionate. The policy did not adequately define the word ‘busker’ and it was argued that even those who whistled or told jokes to friends in the street would be at risk of being criminalised.

Dismissing KSLC’s arguments, the Court accepted that the increasing number of complaints received by the Council meant that 'doing nothing was not an option'. The scheme was 'sufficiently comprehensible', had been lawfully adopted and was 'proportionate to the legitimate aim' of meeting residents' concerns.

Accepting that only a borough-wide scheme would be viable, the Court noted that the new regime would not require entertainers to audition for licences, nor would they be allocated pitches at certain times or on certain days. The fees collected would only be enough to cover the cost of administering the scheme.

The Court concluded, "The Council has striven to introduce a policy which holds the ring between promoting economic growth through fostering dynamic busking activity across the borough but balancing that with the requirements of residents and other economic activity which contributes to the well-being of Camden. It has done so in a way which is lawful."