Climate Protesters’ Defence Under Attack By Government

Legal experts warn that removing a crucial defence for UK climate protesters could undermine the fundamental right to trial by jury, sparking debates over the boundaries of lawful dissent. Here’s the whole story.

Nothing is Sacred

The UK government seems to hold few things sacred, but one of the topics it has been most active on is its legal battles against environmental protesters. 

In a pivotal battle that could shape the future of environmental activism in the UK, the government has moved to dismantle another critical defence for climate protesters.

This move has sparked intense debate amongst lawyers and legal experts over what they see as an assault on the fundamental right to trial by jury. 

Spearheading Appeal

The attorney general, Victoria Pretis KC, is spearheading an appeal to eliminate what remains of the primary defences left for environmental activists. 

The main spearhead of this assault lies in the contentious “consent” defence, one of the last refuges for environmental defendants charged with criminal damage. 

This defence allows individuals to argue they acted with an honest belief that any property owner would have consented to the damage caused to their property during the protest had they been aware of the motives behind the action.  

Too Far

Tom Little KC, representing the attorney general, argues that the application of the “consent” defence stretches the boundaries of the law too far.

Little’s argument asserts that the recent surge in usage amongst climate protesters directly results from another defence being stripped away. 

The other defence, which was in place under the Human Rights Act, was stripped away by a prior intervention by Suella Braverman, the former attorney general. 

“The defence has only recently begun to be run… since the last attorney general closed down one door. Another door has been wrongly broken down in order [for defendants] to make this argument,” Little remarked.

For The Jury To Decide

However, Henry Blaxland KC, representing one of the defendants, argues vehemently for preserving the defence, insisting that its validity should be left for juries to determine. “This is a matter for the jury,” Blaxland stated simply.

Blaxland has warned that curbing the defendant’s right to present this defence would set a dangerous precedent, threatening the very foundation of the right to trial by jury.

In an interview with the Guardian, one of the defendants, who remains anonymous for legal reasons, expressed profound concern over the attorney general’s attempt to undermine the jury’s authority.

“I was found not guilty by a jury after a long trial. I feel like the attorney general is trying to retrospectively challenge the jury’s decision. It feels like an assault on the rights of juries to acquit someone having listened to the evidence,” the defendant stated. 

However, Little rejects this argument, clarifying that the goal is not to impose special restrictions on protesters but to seek clarity in the law. 

“We submit that [the defence] is being used in a way that was not envisaged and cannot have been intended by parliament. If that is right, it leads to the conclusion that this section [of the act] is being interpreted too broadly and in reality wrongly,” Little argued. Little has also pointed out inconsistencies in trial judge’s rulings on the admissibility of the defence.

High-Profile Acquittals

Over the past year, several high-profile cases have seen juries acquitted climate activists after employing the consent defence. 

Notable among these were cases involving protests at the London headquarters of HSBC bank and actions at the party headquarters of the country’s major political parties: The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. 

The previous intervention by Suella Braverman was in 2022 when the defence of proportionality for “significant” criminal damage under the Human Rights Act was abolished. 

This move followed the then Attorney General’s dissatisfaction with jury acquittals in the infamous case of the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. 

Fate of Consent Defence

As the judiciary deliberates on the fate of the consent defence, the outcome of this appeal could significantly shape the interaction between environmental activism and the legal system. 

Many have argued that the government is fighting the wrong battles as the planet continues to heat up and more of the public becomes aware of the untold damage being done to the ecosystem on which we all depend.

Instead of taking on the very people who are protesting our destruction of the planet, perhaps those resources would be better spent on environmental protection or green initiatives.

As it currently stands, the government’s moves to punish environmental protesters will have far-reaching implications for the right to trial by jury in the UK.

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The post Climate Protesters’ Defence Under Attack By Government first appeared on Edge Media.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Phil Maddocks.

Grant Gallacher is a seasoned writer with expertise in politics and impactful daily news. His work, deeply rooted in addressing issues that resonate with a wide audience, showcases an unwavering commitment to bringing forth the stories that matter. He is also known for satirical writing and stand up comedy.

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