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An advocate denounces Conservative attack on protester's legal protection as an infringement on jury rights.
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An advocate denounces Conservative attack on protester’s legal protection as an infringement on jury rights.


The woman involved in a government official’s effort to eliminate one of the few legal defenses for climate activists believes it is an attack on the jury’s right to acquit defendants.

The unnamed young woman was acquitted of criminal damage charges in a climate trial last year by a jury.

However, Victoria Prentis KC, the attorney general, is appealing to the court on Wednesday to contest the use of a defense that has been used by climate activists in recent trials. This comes after several high-profile cases where juries have acquitted climate protesters who vandalized buildings belonging to organizations and companies such as HSBC.

The attorney general lacks the power to dispute a not guilty ruling from a jury, but can bring the case to the court of appeals based on a legal issue. Prentis will present the argument that the defense of lawful excuse, used by the individual known as C, should not be applicable for acts of protest.

The defendant claims the “consent” defense, stating that their actions were justified because they believed the organization impacted would have given consent if they were aware of the damage and its context. C and other protestors have convinced juries that their direct actions would have been approved by the targets if they had better knowledge of the urgency of the climate crisis.

In an interview with the Guardian, C expressed their frustration with the attorney general’s attempt to challenge the jury’s decision after being found not guilty in a lengthy trial. C believes this is an attack on the jury’s authority to acquit based on the evidence presented.

Nine climate activists were recently acquitted of criminal damage charges at the London HSBC bank, while others were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit similar crimes at the headquarters of various political parties.

Last year, juries acquitted individuals who protested for Palestine Action when they used the consent defence.

Prentis has expressed her desire for “clear guidelines on the legal aspects pertaining to future cases” involving demonstrators advocating for climate and environmental causes. As evidenced by court documents presented to the appeal court, she is specifically arguing against the use of the defense by protesters, rather than by all defendants in cases involving criminal damage.

According to Tim Crosland, a former attorney and current leader of environmental advocacy organization Plan B, this action is clearly biased.

According to C, the Crown Prosecution Service attempted to eliminate the consent defense during legal proceedings before the trial. However, the judge in the trial denied the CPS’s request.

C stated that there was some debate over this matter, but it was ultimately rejected by the judge and I was permitted to utilize the defense. However, it seems that they are now attempting to revisit the issue. This feels like yet another assault on the fundamental democratic right of a defendant to have a jury determine their verdict.

This approach aims to discredit my innocent ruling, but it is even more detrimental because a victory would remove the defense for all future climate defendants.

“They are utilizing public funds in an attempt to discredit the jury, using it as a means to deprive climate activists of their final line of defense.”

In the previous year, limitations were placed on environmental activists during court proceedings, preventing them from discussing topics such as climate change, fuel poverty, or civil rights as reasons for their actions in front of a jury. A few individuals who disregarded these restrictions were imprisoned for showing disrespect to the court.

In the previous month, the United Nations’ representative for environmental defenders criticized the implementation of harsh and strict laws, limitations on evidence in court, and the use of civil injunctions to suppress climate change activists in the United Kingdom. Michel Forst emphasized that with the current planetary crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution, these activists are working for the greater good and deserve protection.

C expressed her frustration with the fact that her case was being brought to the appeal court in this manner, stating, “I have no say in this matter.”

The speaker stated that the new laws introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the Public Order Act 2023 were viewed as regressive and limited the freedom to protest. The United Nations rapporteur also criticized these acts.

Prentis stated that she chose to appeal to the court after witnessing several climate activists being cleared of charges for property damage in the previous year.

The speaker stated that they made the reference to ensure that the law is applied fairly and with clarity. They are hopeful that the court of appeal will address this matter and want to stress that regardless of the outcome, those who have been found not guilty through the standard trial process will not be affected.

Prentis, in her written argument presented to the court, stated that the evidence provided by C was unnecessary. The attorney general claimed that the trial judge made a legal mistake by leaving the decision of belief in consent to the jury.

It is not the first time the Conservative government’s senior law officer has turned to the court of appeal to express unhappiness at a jury acquittal for criminal damage. Suella Braverman, when attorney general referred a point of law after four people were cleared over the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. The court of appeal ruled in her favour, removing the defence of proportionality for “significant” criminal damage under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The ruling has been applied to prevent climate activists from using the same argument – that a conviction would unreasonably hinder their right to protest under the European Convention of Human Rights – for other minor offenses, such as public nuisance.

Source: theguardian.com