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Calls for the Crown to Stop Prosecuting Peaceful Climate Protesters as Prisons Clogged and Criminals are ‘Let Off’

The Government is accused of pushing public bodies to go tougher on protesters

Photo: Defend Our Juries

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A coalition of climate and anti-war campaigners are urging officials at the Crown Prosecution Service to face down political pressure to charge and lock up peaceful protesters – amid serious overcrowding in prisons.

A demonstration outside the CPS offices in London’s Petty France earlier this week aimed to shine a light on Conservative Government pressures on the public body, which prosecutes criminal cases that have been investigated by the police in England and Wales. (A CPS spokesperson insisted the organisation was independent of the Government.)

Campaigners included retired social worker Trudi Warner, who faced prison for holding a sign outside a court informing jurors of their ability to acquit activists on the basis of their conscience – something that is a legal fact.

At the same time, it has emerged that police have been urged by ministers to limit the number of arrests as the prison system cannot cope. 

Defend Our Juries, which organised the action, said they were standing against the prosecution of individuals taking nonviolent actions to uphold the rule of law, such as preventing the illegal deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, addressing alleged war crimes in Gaza, or tackling environmental violations.

The letter references Article 3(8) of the Aarhus Convention, which bans penalising environmental defenders, highlighting a UN report on the UK’s crackdown on such activists.

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It also alleges violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly recent cases in England where judges forbade ‘environmental defenders’ from explaining their motivations in court. Defend Our Juries said a string of examples of this undermined the right to a fair trial.

The letter also slams the continued imprisonment of Julian Assange for “exposing war crimes”, urging the CPS to resist Conservative attacks and uphold the civil service code of conduct to act impartially.  

It comes in the same week that the Government adviser John Woodcock announced proposals for another round of sweeping anti-protest legislation, that could see far more protests banned, and many more campaigners criminalised. 

Changes already going through Parliament in the Criminal Justice Bill would ban the use of flares and other pyrotechnics at protests, and let police forces ban face coverings supposedly used to conceal identities. Many people wearing masks for health reasons could be swept up in the proposed bans. However, the bill is unlikely to pass before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: “The CPS considers each case on its own merits based on the evidence and whether it is in the public interest to bring charges, in line with our legal test.

“We are independent and make our decisions independently of the police and government.”

On Wednedsay, the PM’s spokesman told journalists it would assess the latest anti-protest proposals from John Woodcock, saying: “Whenever we discuss these issues, we always say that we have a long and proud tradition in this country have a right to peaceful process protest. But we can never tolerate violent criminal or threatening activity on Britain’s streets. We would acknowledge that protests are complex operational matters for the police.”

The No 10 spokesman added: “[Police] do already have extensive powers to place conditions on protests, where it might result in serious disorder or disruption to life of the community…We would obviously want to then look at the recommendations that are in the report to see whether they would assist with with that.”

Labour do not appear to be particularly keen on John Woodcock’s anti-protest plans, but have not totally disavowed the report. It is not yet clear what protest-related legislation passed under the Conservatives a Labour Government might repeal, though the party has pledged to scrap the latest anti-trade union legislation which introduced Minimum Service Levels for several major sectors including health, schools, and transport.

Government ‘Independent Adviser’ Who ‘Backs Ban’ on Climate and Palestine Groups has Paid Roles with Defence and Business Lobbyists

The Conservatives’ domestic extremism adviser Lord John Walney is accused of conflicts of interest over a proposed ban of groups such as Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil


Government Launching Direct ‘Attacks’ on Protesters

It comes as legal campaigners warned that a Government appeal in the courts risks further wasting public resources and harming the right to protest. 

The Solicitor General is pushing contempt of court claims against climate protestor Trudi Warner to appeal, despite its initial case against her failing. 

Good Law Project said the appeal exposes the “warped priorities of a government with no answers to the big problems”.

The Solicitor General – a Conservative minister who advises the government on the law – is appealing a High Court decision not to charge Warner, a 69-year-old climate campaigner, with contempt of court. (The decision is not being pushed by the CPS, as contempt charges are handled separatly). 

In March last year, she held up a placard stating jurors have a right to give a verdict based on their conscience – a message that features on an historic plaque at the Old Bailey. 

Last month, Mr Justice Saini ruled that there was no basis to take action against Warner. Mr Saini said the government’s claim that her behaviour fell into the category of criminal contempt was “fanciful”. Warner had spent the past year fearing she could be sent to prison for two years. The retired social worker had thought her ordeal was over.  But the solicitor general is to appeal the ruling. 

Lawyer Explains How Lord Walney’s ‘Extreme Protest’ Groups Report Makes ‘Criminal Law Redundant and is Draconian and Dangerous’

The report is expected to proscribe Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action as ‘extreme protest groups’ and restrict their ability to fundraise and assemble

Good Law Project legal manager Jennine Walker said: “The High Court was quite clear that there was no basis to take action against Trudi when it threw the case out last month. 

“The solicitor general’s decision to appeal is chilling evidence of how far removed the government is from truth and justice and the lengths it will go to to try and silence protest.

“The UK government is not doing enough to prevent the damage caused by the climate crisis. Yet people like Trudi who call them out are threatened with jail. This case exposes the warped priorities of a government with no answers to the big problems.”

In the same court case Warner was demonstrating outside, the judge had ruled that the defendants were not allowed to tell the jury why they were protesting and banned them from mentioning the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ – claiming the motives were irrelevant to the alleged crimes. Defend Our Juries said it was an attack on their free speech and the right to a fair trial. 

Additional reporting by Adam Bienkov.

Climate campaigner Trudi Warner outside the CPS offices on Monday. Photo: Defend Our Juries

Letter in Full: Defend Our Juries to Director of Public Prosecutions

Dear Mr [Stepen] Parkinson,

Re: Conflict between government policy and civil service duty to uphold international law 

Today we demonstrate outside your offices not in protest against the CPS, but to highlight the increasing tension between Government policy and the civil service code of conduct.

We consider it to be inconsistent with both the code of conduct and the public interest to prosecute those who are taking nonviolent and proportionate measures to uphold the rule of law, such as those seeking to prevent:

In relation to members of the public taking action to hold the Government to account for its environmental obligations, we draw your attention to Article 3(8) of the Aarhus Convention, which prohibits the penalisation, persecution or harassment of environmental defenders. Earlier this year the UN Special Rapporteur for Environmental Defenders, Michel Forst, wrote an unprecedented ‘end of mission’ report concerning violations of this prohibition in the UK (“I am issuing this statement in the light of the extremely worrying information I received in the course of these meetings regarding the increasingly severe crackdowns on environmental defenders in the United Kingdom”).

BREAKING

More Protesters to Face Prison as Government Plans Bans on Face Masks and Flares at Demonstrations

“The Government is determined to shut down the ways in which ordinary people can take to the streets to make their voices heard,” Liberty says

We draw your attention too to the violations of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights that are occurring in trials of those taking nonviolent direct action, as referenced by Michel Forst:

“I was also alarmed to learn that, in some recent cases, presiding judges have forbidden environmental defenders from explaining to the jury their motivation for participating in a given protest or from mentioning climate change at all. It is very difficult to understand what could justify denying the jury the opportunity to hear the reason for the defendant’s action, and how a jury could reach a properly informed decision without hearing it, in particular at the time of environmental defenders’ peaceful but ever more urgent calls for the government to take pressing action for the climate.”

Environmental defenders have been imprisoned simply for using the words ‘climate change’ in court (see “Activists jailed for seven weeks for defying ban on mentioning climate crisis”, openDemocracy). This cannot be in the public interest at a time when the prisons are so full they cannot accommodate even those convicted of violent crimes; in conditions so bad, Germany has refused to extradite to the UK. It is another matter whether it is in the interests of the oil and arms companies who pay Lord Walney, the Government’s ‘independent’ adviser on political violence and disruption (Lord Walney recommends that groups such as Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action should be banned as ‘extremists’).

We refer too to the ongoing criminal investigation into twenty-four people simply for holding up signs asserting the principle of jury equity, despite the ruling of Mr Justice Saini on 22 April that the attempt to characterise such conduct as criminal was ‘fanciful’ and contrary to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These twenty-four people have been under investigation since September for perverting the course of justice, an offence which carries the threat of life imprisonment. Famously, a jury acquitted the civil servant, Clive Ponting, of breaching the Official Secrets Act, after he exposed violations of international law during the Falklands War on the basis of the principle of jury equity. Meanwhile Julian Assange remains incarcerated for exposing war crimes, such as the brutal shooting of Iraqi journalists from an Apache helicopter. His appeal against extradition to the US is back in court today.

No CPS employee should feel pressured into complicity in violations of international law, and we trust that as DPP, you will stand up for your team in resisting political pressures to violate the civil service code of conduct. We will take steps to ensure that all your staff have the means of reporting, confidentially, any concerns.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss these matters further.

Yours sincerely, 

Defend Our Juries


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