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Around 200 people are risking prison by standing outside crown courts across England today, in solidarity with a retired social worker who risks jail after allegedly holding a sign outside a climate trial.
Last week, Byline Times revealed that the Solicitor General plans to launch court proceedings against 68-year-old climate campaigner Trudi Warner, who allegedly held a placard outside a trial of fellow Insulate Britain protestors at Inner London Crown Court in March, notifying jurors of their ability to acquit climate campaigners on the basis of their conscience.
In July, Michael Tomlinson KC, one of the Government’s most senior lawyers, threatened Warner – the first person to hold up a sign notifying jurors of their ‘right to acquit’ outside court – with contempt of court proceedings. The offence carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment. Dozens of prominent campaigners then wrote to the Solicitor General saying he would have to prosecute them too.
Lawyers for Trudi Warner have now confirmed that they have been “notified that the intention of the Attorney General is to commence contempt proceedings against Trudi”. Her sign allegedly said that ‘Jurors: You Have an Absolute Right to Acquit a Defendant According to Your Conscience’.
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The prosecution of Warner threatens to spark “nationwide public resistance”, according to new campaign group Defend Our Juries. More than 200 people are expected to replicate her alleged action today around the country, as civil society, legal and mental health professionals rally round.
Campaigners are holding signs outside criminal courts around the country – including in London, Bristol and Manchester – as part of the growing public campaign.
One of those risking prison, Dr Abi Perrin, a scientist, said: “In 2023, telling the truth is being treated as a criminal act, with people prosecuted for displaying facts in public, and imprisoned for explaining their motivations in their own defence in a court of law. I am deeply afraid of a world where truth, science and morality are not important, or where we are not free to fight for them.”
Barrister Paul Powlesland added: “It’s absurd overreach and an appalling assault on freedom of speech for the police to threaten members of the public with serious criminal charges just for holding up signs with the law on them. This will have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression everywhere.”
Three generations of women from one Bristol family plan to hold signs outside Bristol Crown Court. Renee Slater, an 84-year-old grandmother, branded any prosecution of Warner as “repression of legitimate protest” that must “always be resisted”.
Renee’s granddaughter, Vivi MacDonald, said: “The continuous measures by the Government to limit protest are threatening everyone’s freedom and ability to take action or express their opinion based on our own conscience in the light of the urgent need for social, political and environmental change.”
More than 50 members of the Climate Psychology Alliance have also publicly written to the Solicitor General, saying: “In the current context, we consider that Trudi Warner’s action was both appropriate and proportionate and we would be prepared to act in a similar way.”
The Barrister magazine has published an article by Richard Vogler, Professor of Comparative Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, University of Sussex, defending Warner’s actions. He observed: “George Orwell noticed the tendency of repressive law to degenerate into farce, when truth becomes a lie and common sense is heresy.
“This is worth remembering today, when the Solicitor General, Michael Tomlinson KC, has concluded that it is a prosecutable offence for a climate campaigner, Trudi Warner to hold up a sign outside a criminal court, simply proclaiming one of the fundamental principles of the common law; the right of a jury to decide a case according to its conscience.”
A spokesperson for Defend Our Juries added that this “united front from the public” presents the Solicitor General, the police and the courts “with a dilemma”.
“If holding these signs is really a serious criminal offence, amounting to interference with the course of justice, punishable with life imprisonment, then all who do so should be arrested and prosecuted,” they added. “But arresting so many people for upholding simple and truthful signs risks further backlash. In a recent consultation, over 80% of the public cited trial by jury as a fundamental British right.”
The Metropolitan Police has also been accused of “absurd overreach” and “an appalling assault on freedom of speech” after launching a criminal investigation into others for holding signs outside court. Last week, more than a dozen of those who have held up signs have been called in by the police under threat of arrest.
The background to the police investigations are an escalating conflict over measures being taken by the courts to prevent juries reaching not guilty verdicts in political trials, following a pattern of jury acquittals in such cases.
Measures include judges banning those on trial from explaining the context and motivation for their actions, people being sent to prison for using words like ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court, and judges directing juries that people have no defence.
Judges have also banned defendants and defence lawyers from explaining to a jury that a jury has a right to acquit, whatever the directions from a judge, a spokesperson for Defend Our Juries said.
Speaking to Byline Times last week, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said: “Contempt of court is a serious matter and the power to issue proceedings is used sparingly. When investigating potential contempt issues, the law officers assess whether the evidential test for the specific form of contempt is met.
“In this case, the law officers considered the deliberate act of doing something that interferes or creates a real risk of interference with the administration of justice, and whether it is in the public interest to begin proceedings for contempt… It will now be a matter for the court.”
Contempt of court is not technically a criminal offence, but it is punishable by imprisonment.
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