LONDON (Reuters) - Dozens of protesters against economic inequality were effectively told they could remain camped outside London's landmark St Paul's Cathedral for another nine days while a judge decides whether to listen to their appeal against eviction.
London Occupy, part of an international movement, has been camping outside the landmark cathedral for four months, drawing attention to their argument against corporate greed and bankers' bonuses.
It has been locked in a legal battle with the City of London Corporation, which controls much of the land, and which wants the camp removed on grounds of safety and hygiene and to allow better access to the cathedral for worshippers.
It won a case in the High Court last month for the tents to be taken away, but the protesters went to the Court of Appeal on Monday arguing their case had "unique and global" significance and claiming the judge had failed to consider alternative arrangements.
Master of the Rolls, David Neuberger, one of the most senior judges in England and Wales, sitting in a packed court, said he would decide on February 22 whether there were grounds for an appeal.
"At the very least, today has assured an extra nine days in the camp," one of the applicants, George Barda, told Reuters.
"So fingers crossed that they will actually allow us to bring this to appeal.
"It seems today that they were genuinely interested in engaging with the actual substance of this movement which the previous court singularly failed to do."
The area around St Paul's Cathedral is popular with tourists, and the vast domed baroque cathedral is one of central London's main landmarks and is where Prince Charles married Princess Diana in 1981.
The protesters chose to pitch their 200 tents at the bottom of its steps last October after they were blocked from their intended target, the nearby square at the London Stock Exchange.
Their cause gained unintended publicity when the cathedral dithered and appeared divided on how to handle the sit-in.
Two senior Anglican clerics resigned, and lawmakers, including Prime Minister David Cameron, stepped into the fray.
The camp has drawn support from some artists and celebrities and received donations, but has also been accused of attracting the homeless and of being too diverse in its causes.
In the United States, police have cleared the flagship Occupy encampments in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and other major cities although a handful of camps remain in place around the country.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby)