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‘Lord Walney Wants to Stop the Public From Acquitting Protesters – to Safeguard Those Making Money From the Issues They Demonstrate Against’

He wants juries to stop finding defendants not guilty and to prevent judges from applying laws “differently” when they involve issues like climate change and anti-racism

Lord Walney, formerly known as John Woodcock, encounters a protest by campaigners against the arms trade as he arrives at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

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I’m assuming that John Woodcock, who would like to be known as Lord Walney, was not happy with last week’s decision by 12 people to acquit three Just Stop Oil activists of criminal damage. 

Despite being allowed no defence in law by the judge, the jury still returned a unanimous not guilty verdict. In his recent attack on protesters ‘Protecting Democracy From Coercion’, Woodcock identifies such behaviour by juries as a threat to democracy. 

In recommendation 27 of his 294 page report, Woodcock calls for: “The Lord Chancellor and Lady Chief Justice [to] convene a process to examine the potential issue of juries acquitting defendants and judges applying laws differently when they are transgressed in the name of progressive causes like climate change and anti-racism.”

Just Stop Oil stop protesters bring traffic to a halt during a slow walk around Westminster in May 2023. Photo: Denise Laura Baker / Alamy

That is: Woodcock wants juries to be stopped from acquitting defendants based on their conscience a process known as “jury equity” and a part of our legal system since 1670 – if the defendants are there due to “progressive causes” such as climate change and racism.

The problem for Woodcock is that public opinion, evidenced by ordinary people in a jury, is often on the side of the protesters and not the status quo elite, of which Woodcock is a member. Above all, Woodcock wants the public to have no way to express their belief in or support for the brave people putting their liberty at risk to ring the alarm bell on the climate crisis and racial discrimination.

At my Crown Court case last year, for breaking the windows of HSBC in protest at their funding of fossil fuel extraction and climate breakdown, the jury found us not guilty. In that case we used the defence of “consent”: we believed if the people inside the building knew the true facts of ecological collapse, they would consent to our actions. The jury agreed. Following our trial, and the Attorney General made sure that defence could not be used again.

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And now they’re coming for juries.

I met Woodcock shortly after he was given the role as ‘independent advisor on political violence and disruption’ by Boris Johnson‘s government in 2020. It’s worth noting that this role used to be ‘the UK Government envoy on countering violent extremism’. So politically-motivated violence becomes the ideological container for any disruptive protest, which means all effective forms of protest are aligned with violent terrorism. It’s a great move if you are rich and politically desperate but have to live in a democracy.

The foundations for this reframing were laid down in 2019 in the Policy Exchange paper ‘Extremism Rebellion’ where, unlike much of the intellectual commentariat and media class, the right wingers and free market fundamentalists had actually got the memo. Climate breakdown and ecological collapse changes everything, and we need systemic change. That is what Extinction Rebellion was set up to advocate for.

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‘Climate change’ as a phrase was similarly popularised on purpose, another reframing exercise, to make it sound ordinary, like something we could survive, despite the rich but politically desperate elite knowing that it’s not a survivable outcome. It means certain mass death and suffering. 

Extinction Rebellion is not primarily a political movement; it’s an existential one. It is made up of ordinary people who are rightly worried. Yet, since 2019 there has been an attack on those ordinary people who choose to exercise their right to hold the establishment to account.

The people are the conscience of a free and true democracy. The politicians should have been thinking: Wow, what drives grannies, teachers, medics and legal professionals to shut down the capital and face prison sentences if necessary? Surely thousands of previously law-abiding people taking such a stance must have serious cause for concern? In my opinion, the elite did think that. But they can’t deal with the consequences, so they entered a new campaign of denial, and that is the denial of democracy itself. 

Hence Woodcock’s threat to our juries. His report is the next step in an ideological project that has become an unstoppable juggernaut towards an Orwellian authoritarianism. We’ve only just begun to see the impacts from the new laws that are designed to destroy the life of nonviolent protests and movements.

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A recent Just Stop Oil court case saw a group of young people on the hook for a 12 months prison sentence for a 20-minute march in the street while advocating for something the majority of the public agree with. The soup throwers are not your enemy! Yet they’ve been tried under a new section of the law, where people have no right to argue, no access to defence. Basically a judge decides if they should be allowed to claim they had “reasonable excuse”, and their judge said they didn’t. So they couldn’t explain themselves to the jury, were convicted and face custodial time. Woodcock and his pals want you to think this is the ‘real’ extremism. 

As Timothy Snyder wrote in his bestselling book about the threat of fascism, On Tyranny, “extremism certainly sounds bad, and governments often try to make it sound worse by using the word terrorism in the same sentence. But the word has little meaning. There is no doctrine called extremism. When tyrants speak of extremism, they just mean people who are not in the mainstream – as the tyrants themselves are defining that mainstream at that particular moment.”

The “mainstream” is you, your neighbour, all of us who are trying to raise the alarm and do something about climate collapse and our failing democratic system.

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The obvious point to make about Woodcock is that this “independent adviser” is anything but. He has links to fossil fuel firms and arms manufacturers through lobbying work and positions with organisations such as the Purpose Defence Coalition and Rud Pederson. The Purpose Defence Coalition works for arms company Leonardo and oil firm BP. Rud Pedersen works for Swiss mining firm Glencore and oil firm Enwell Energy. No surprise that he recommends that the government “consider ways to ensure increased resilience of supply for defence manufacturers and energy providers whose operations are being disrupted by illegal protest.” He also wants a job-for-life from it, suggesting the government must turn his role into a permanent position. 

Woodcock’s report is a threat to our freedom to live well and care for each other. When the big climate shock arrives and food begins to run out, and people take to the streets demanding their fare share of what they see flowing into the elite areas of cities, how will the political class respond? Will hungry people become the next “extremists”?

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This is the real reason why the British political class has become so violent towards its own citizens. The political class know that their very profitable system of Western imperialism and supremacy is under threat. In fact, they know it is crumbling to dust, and will soon be gone. Anyone who points that out is an “extremist” threat to their wealth and power.

What will Keir Starmer do if he is elected? Anything different? Don’t hold your breath.

The political class won’t save us. In fact, it’s us saving them. The tiny political class who want to hold on to their wealth and power at all costs – they are the extremists.


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