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The law of crowds

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Illan rua Wall*
University of Warwick
Illan rua Wall, University of Warwick, Law, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. Email:


From the Arab Spring and Occupy to the London riots and student tuition fee protests, the disordered crowd has re-emerged as a focal point of anxiety for law makers. The paper examines two recent cases where the UK courts have thought about crowds. In Austin, the House of Lords connected the crowd to an idea of human nature. This essentialist rendering placed the crowd within an old analytical register where it is understood to release a primordial violence. In Bauer, the Administrative Court utilised a very different sense of the ‘crowdness’ of the crowd to uphold the conviction of UK Uncut activists for aggravated trespass. In their novelty and difference, these two mutually exclusive senses of the crowd open an essential question of the relation between law and society. This paper introduces the ‘Law of Crowds’ as a distinctive way to understand the questions of protest, revolt and democracy.

Research Article
Copyright © Society of Legal Scholars 2016

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My thanks to Dora Kostakopoulou, Philip Kaisary, Ana Aliverti, Jackie Hodgson, William Wall, Elizabeth Kirwan and Brid Spillane for reading the drafts of this paper, and to Andreas Mihailoppolis-Phillipopolis, Donatella Alesandrini, Suhriaiya Jivraj, Antonia Layard, Mairead Enright, Chris Butler, Lee Bridges, Amelia Thorpe, Anne Bottomley and Ben Golder, who have all provided invaluable comments and questions on the various iterations of this work in conferences, workshops and bars.


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12. 1985 IRLR 136.

13. Austin, above n 9, para 1.

14. Ibid, para 3.

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27. HMIC, above n 22, p 85.

28. Ibid.

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38. For a full discussion of this, see Reicher et al, above n 18.

39. See Austin, above n 9, para 6 and Castle & Ors v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2011] EWHC 2317, para 13.

40. Castle, ibid, particularly paras 21–26.

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43. Bauer, above n 10, para 1.

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49. Ibid, para 9, quoting the District Court judgment (his emphasis).

50. Ibid, para 36.

51. (1882) 8 QBD 534.

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53. Ibid, para 30 (my emphasis).

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64. Ibid, p 122.

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74. Ibid.

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