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Retired Social Worker Who Faced Two Years in Prison for Holding Up Sign Outside Climate Trial is Cleared

Campaigners say the judge throwing out Government claims that Trudi Warner was in contempt of court is a victory for free speech

Trudi Warner outside the court in April 2024. Photo: Defend Our Juries

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A retired social worker will not face prison for allegations of ‘contempt of court’, after holding up a sign outside a climate trial last year which stated: “Jurors: you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience”.

The Government’s Solicitor General had applied to ‘commit’ climate activist Trudi Warner to prison, with initial hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice taking place last Thursday and today (Monday 22nd April). She faced up to two years in prison if the case went ahead.  

The Defend Our Juries campaign, which aims to inform jurors of their right to acquit peaceful activists and defend those who do so, said a “vital precedent” has been established protecting protest rights outside courts. 

A judge at the High Court this morning said Warner would not face a full hearing and refused the Government’s attempt to try her for contempt of court, which could have meant two years in jail. The Government had claimed that Warner’s actions sought to illegally sway the jury during the climate protest trial.  

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The year-long battle follows an incident in March last year, when 69-year-old Warner held up a placard reminding jurors they had a right to give a verdict based on their conscience – a message that features on an historic plaque at the Old Bailey.

Delivering his judgement on the Government’s application on Monday, Mr Justice Saini said: “The Solicitor General’s case does not disclose a reasonable basis for committal … It is fanciful to suggest that Ms Warner’s conduct [amounted to common law contempt]. Her placard simply summarised the principle of jury equity. Her conduct was consistent with information sharing. She was in essence a human billboard.”

Warner held her sign up outside a courtroom where people were on trial for protesting against the Government’s failure to tackle the climate crisis. London Court Judge Silas Reid had ruled that the defendants were not allowed to tell the jury why they were protesting and had banned them from mentioning the words “climate change” and “fuel poverty”. Three people have now gone to prison after defying his order, Defend Our Juries says. 


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Responding to the news, Good Law Project legal manager, Jennine Walker, said:“We are delighted that Trudi’s nightmare is over and she can get on with her life free from the fear of being imprisoned.

“Juries hold a special place in our legal system because they allow ordinary people to decide what is right and fair. When the state wants to exercise the greatest power it has – that of sending someone to prison – a jury can keep it in check. Trudi’s sign simply reminded jurors of that important right.

“Let’s not forget why Trudi held up her sign. The UK Government is not doing enough to prevent the damage caused by global heating that is destroying people’s homes and livelihoods. The law is not doing enough to hold the people and companies who are destroying our planet to account. Yet ordinary people who sound the alarm face prosecution.”

Before the hearing, a Defend our Juries spokesperson said the fact that Warner faced prison at all “should be enough to send a shudder down your spine.” 

Warner’s cause has been taken up by hundreds of other activists, who have joined protests outside courtrooms across the country since she was arrested last year – many of them urging the police to arrest them. 

The Background

Following Judge Reid’s orders, Trudi Warner protested outside the Inner London Crown Court with a placard, outlining what she said was principle of ‘jury equity’, in other words the right of a jury to acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, even if a judge directs that there is no defence. 

Trudi Warner was subsequently arrested for contempt of court. On 18 April, at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Solicitor General, Robert Courts MP, will apply for permission to commit Ms Warner to prison for her actions (known as ‘committal proceedings’). Ms Warner will be represented by Clare Montgomery KC.

From the 13th-21st April, hundreds of people gathered outside every Crown Court in England and Wales to mimic her actions and dare police to arrest them. 


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In February, 300 people handed in a letter inviting the Solicitor General to prosecute them too. 

A spokesperson for the Defend Our Juries Campaign added last week: “This week, our message to the Government and courts is simple: Trudi Warner is not alone in asserting a fundamental principle of justice, if you are prosecuting Trudi Warner, you must prosecute us too.”

On Friday 12th April, Warner addressed a conference organised by Lawyers Are Responsible and Queen Mary University of London, attended by lawyers, academics, health workers and frontline climate activists. 

Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur for environmental defenders, delivered a video address, telling attendees: “In January 2024, I was in London for a couple of days to meet with environmental defenders and Government representatives…

“I had received many concerning reports of the crackdown on environmental defenders in [other] countries. But I must say, I had not seen a situation as concerning as the one in the UK. Since [my last visit], the situation does not seem to have improved.” 

That assessment may now be slightly tempered by today’s news. 

A Defend Our Juries protest inside the Royal Courts of Justice, February 2024

The Defend Our Juries campaign aims “to bring to public attention the programme to undermine trial by jury in the context of those taking action to expose Government dishonesty and corporate greed.”

The group also seeks to highlight the “vital constitutional safeguard” that juries can acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, “irrespective of a judge’s direction that there is no available defence,” a principle also known as ‘jury equity’ or ‘jury nullification‘.  

And the organisers push to ensure all defendants are able to explain their actions “when their liberty is at stake, including by explaining their motivations and beliefs.” 

Last August, 40 members of the public, including an Olympic gold medalist, a retired bus driver, a number of health professionals, a group of Quakers and a former government lawyer – who have all held up similar signs – wrote to the Solicitor General to say, “If you prosecute Trudi Warner, you should prosecute us too.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office told Byline Times last September: “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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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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