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Stripping climate activists in the UK of their right to use a defense could potentially undermine the principle of trial by jury.
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Stripping climate activists in the UK of their right to use a defense could potentially undermine the principle of trial by jury.

According to the court of appeal, an effort by the UK government to eliminate a crucial protection for climate activists could lead to the gradual erosion of the fundamental constitutional right to a trial by jury.

The attorney general, Victoria Prentis KC, is advocating for the elimination of one of the remaining defenses utilized by environmental activists. Prentis is making this argument in the trial of an individual known as C, following a series of not guilty verdicts by juries for charges of criminal damage related to painting on buildings.

Tom Little, the attorney general for Kansas City, argued to the judges in the appeal court that the use of the “consent” defense in the Criminal Damage Act of 1971 was incorrect and too expansive of a interpretation of the law. This defense, which only applies to cases of criminal damage, allows the defendant to claim that they honestly believed the property owner would have given consent if they had known the reasons behind the damage.

According to Little, climate activists have turned to this defense as another important defense provided by the Human Rights Act was previously eliminated by Suella Braverman, who was then the attorney general.

The defense has just started being implemented because the previous attorney general shut one door. Unfortunately, another door was forcefully opened in order for the defendants to use this argument, according to him.

However, according to Henry Blaxland KC, it is up to a jury to determine if a defendant genuinely believed that the owner of a property would have given consent for the damage.

“This is a matter for the jury,” said Blaxland. He said to stop a defendant presenting the defence to jurors “would be a slippery slope to the erosion of the constitutional right to trial by jury”.

During a private conversation with the Guardian, the woman involved in the attorney general’s appeal stated that the effort to eliminate the defense was an attack on the jury’s right to declare defendants not guilty.

The unidentified female, due to legal restrictions, was acquitted by a jury of causing damage in a climate-related case in the previous year. In an interview with the Guardian, C stated, “After a lengthy trial, I was cleared of all charges by a jury. It seems as though the attorney general is attempting to challenge the jury’s verdict after the fact. This feels like an attack on the jury’s right to acquit someone based on the evidence presented.”

Little stated that he was not looking for a special treatment for protestors, but rather seeking clarification on the law due to inconsistent rulings made by trial judges regarding the use of the defence for defendants charged with criminal damage. He argued that the defence was being utilized in a manner that was not intended by parliament and therefore, the section of the act is being interpreted too broadly and incorrectly.

In the past year, multiple demonstrators have been cleared of charges by juries when using a defense. This includes climate activists who were found innocent of causing harm to the HSBC bank in London, as well as individuals who were acquitted of plotting to cause damage at the headquarters of several political parties, including the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens.

Last year, juries acquitted individuals who used the consent defence in their protests for Palestine Action.

In her role as attorney general, Suella Braverman effectively challenged the use of the defense of proportionality in cases of “significant” criminal damage under the Human Rights Act of 1998. This action was taken in response to her frustration with the acquittal of four individuals by a jury for their involvement in toppling a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

A decision was postponed until a future time.

Source: theguardian.com