Quakers to reenact Penn and Mead case

‘Quakers need to wake up to this and defend it.’ Phil Laurie, who says the jury system is under threat.

Friends are organising a reenactment of the 1670 Penn and Mead case, as witness to the jury system.

The London event at Gracechurch Street is in support of the Defend our Juries campaign, which was sparked by a wave of restrictions in climate activist court cases. These prevented defendants from mentioning climate change in front of a jury, sometimes resulting in imprisonment. The re-enactment will depict the trial of William Penn and William Mead, which became a legal precedent for the rights of juries.

Quaker Phil Laurie, one of the organisers of the event, told the Friend: ‘It’s basically to alert Quakers to the fact that one of the great gifts of Quaker activism in the early days was the jury system – and it’s under threat. Quakers need to wake up to this and defend it. A jury was threatened with prison last month if they acquitted someone according to their conscience. We’re reminding people that this was hard won by the sacrifice of Quakers in the 1670s. We’re not doing it in a gloomy way. We want to do it in a happy way. There are no risks – we’re not going to do anything illegal.’

The 7 April gathering, at the Great Fire of London monument, is expected to draw Friends from around the country. ‘We’ve got people coming from Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham,’ said Phil Laurie. ‘We’re encouraging them to come in period costumes although it’s not compulsory. The Climate Choir will be singing, and we’re going to have a Meeting for Worship – it was a Meeting for Worship that started it all off. And then we’re going to get out our placards and stand on the pavement, and make a long line in protest about what’s going on.’

Cornwall Friends will be supporting the witness in Truro. Alison Meaton, from Cornwall Area Meeting, told the Friend: ‘There will be a Meeting for Worship outside Truro Courts at 3pm to hold defendants and those working in the court services in the Light. Sitting silently on the pavements outside Truro Courts holding a sign with the words inscribed on a plaque in the Old Bailey is Quaker faith in action: “Jurors have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience.”’

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