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The decision made by the court has weakened the power of climate activists to protect themselves - while the Earth's temperature continues to rise.
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The decision made by the court has weakened the power of climate activists to protect themselves – while the Earth’s temperature continues to rise.

In the court of appeal, the shift on the rights of protest in England and Wales happened within minutes, with a noticeable absence of demonstrators.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling on Monday has effectively favored the Attorney General, the top legal representative of the Conservative government. This decision has eliminated a protection for climate activists that has been in place since 1971.

Rephrased: Referred to as the “consent” defense, it permitted individuals on trial for criminal destruction to claim that they genuinely believed the owner of the damaged property would have given their consent had they been aware of the damage and its surrounding conditions.

Over the past year, advocates for climate change were able to effectively utilize this justification in jury trials at crown court. After hearing the evidence, juries found nine individuals not guilty for protesting at the London headquarters of HSBC bank, along with others who had painted on the headquarters of various political parties and those who were demonstrating for Palestine Action.

However, following a series of verdicts of not guilty, attorney general Victoria Prentis intervened by stating her desire for a clear understanding of the law for future cases involving climate and environmental activists. As a result, she has filed an appeal with the court of appeal regarding a specific legal point.

On Monday, three judges from the appeal court decided in her favor. They declared that the defense outlined in the Criminal Damage Act of 1971 cannot be applied to those who claim that the consequences of the climate crisis constitute a valid reason for their actions.

The woman at the centre of the appeal, C, who has spoken to the Guardian, was found not guilty by a jury last year after arguing that the objects of the direct action would have consented if they had known more about the climate emergency.

However, the judges of the court of appeal have recently decided that this option will not be accessible to individuals in the future.

Sue Carr, the female chief justice of England and Wales, stated that personal motivations, beliefs, political or philosophical ideologies are not a justifiable excuse for causing harm.

Climate activists may argue that the scientific agreement on the climate emergency and the imperative to take action are not mere opinions or ideologies, but empirical evidence. However, this was not taken into consideration in the court of appeals, where a legal technicality was thoroughly examined in a one-day hearing by judges wearing wigs, with no consideration for the urgent issue of global warming.

The ruling eliminates the last possible protection for individuals protesting on the streets, vandalizing buildings, or peacefully occupying roads in order to raise awareness about the critical need for countries to take immediate steps to reduce emissions and control global warming.

This likely indicates another notable achievement in manipulating the lawful system through political means.

Prentis’s predecessor as attorney general, Suella Braverman, previously intervened and eliminated the protection for protests under the European convention on human rights as a defense for criminal damage. Braverman sought the court of appeal’s assistance in a legal matter after several Conservative MPs expressed frustration over four individuals being found not guilty by a jury for pulling down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

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In 2022, a ruling has had a ripple effect on courts in England, resulting in judges placing limitations on numerous defendants. These restrictions have been applied not only to cases involving criminal damage, which was the focus of the Braverman challenge, but also to cases involving minor public order offenses.

During a series of cases at the Inner London crown court, individuals facing charges of public nuisance were not allowed to discuss climate change, fuel poverty, or the civil rights movement in the US. Despite objections from Liberty, a human rights organization, a few individuals chose to defy these restrictive measures placed by the court and were subsequently imprisoned for contempt.

Michel Forst, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for environmental defenders, has expressed clear concern about the current situation. He cautioned against the extreme measures being taken against climate protestors in England and Wales, which include harsh new legislation, limitations on evidence in court, and civil injunctions. These actions are seen as impinging on basic freedoms and creating a discouraging atmosphere.

Prior to the recent limitations on the testimony that can be given in a criminal court, Forst gave a speech.

The 1971 act’s consent defence began being utilized by defendants within the confines of stringent laws regarding the defenses allowed to climate protesters.

Some juries, upon hearing testimony from individuals like C, opted to acquit these individuals of charges of criminal damage.

However, moving forward, jurors will not have the opportunity to listen to a climate protester make the case that they had a valid reason for their actions because, as described by the Independent Panel on Climate Change, the increasing levels of greenhouse gases are placing the world in a state of permanent harm and the necessary actions are not being taken quickly enough.

Source: theguardian.com