Trials witness

'The activists were supporting nonviolent climate protesters who have recently been banned from using the words ‘climate change’ or ‘fuel poverty’ in trials, or to talk about their motivations.'

Friend Rajan Naidu at the Crown Court | Photo: Images courtesy XR

Four Quakers were among a group of twenty-four people who sat in witness outside the Crown Court last week, to remind jurors of their right to make decisions according to their conscience.

The activists were supporting nonviolent climate protesters who have recently been banned from using the words ‘climate change’ or ‘fuel poverty’ in trials, or to talk about their motivations. Three people have been imprisoned for breaking the ruling.

Quaker Joanna Hindley, from Cotteridge Meeting, said: ‘I am deeply troubled threefold: that defendants whom I personally know and respect have been sent to prison for telling the truth; that the rights and duty of jury members to decide their verdict on the basis of their collective individual consciences have not been upheld – thereby compromising the fundamental human right to trial by jury; and that those who have sought to uphold jury members’ rights to act on the basis of conscience, have been arrested.’

Quakers Rajan Naidu, of Stourbridge Meeting, Fran Hicks, of Selly Oak Meeting, and Phil Laurie, of Westminster and Faversham Meetings, also took part in the witness, sitting on a pavement around the perimeters of the Inner London Crown Court. Each person displayed a banner saying: ‘Jurors have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience.’

A letter was also delivered to the court, addressed to Silas Reid, the judge, referring to the first time this principle was established in 1670 when two Quakers were on trial.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) said that the witness was in solidarity with those facing trial under Reid’s legal rulings ‘who are banned from mentioning the rights of jurors; the importance of morality in the application of British law; and the significance of why previously law-abiding citizens are prepared to risk breaking the law’. Reid has previously ordered the arrests of four people displaying the same message near the court, accusing them of attempting to influence the jury.

XR said that outcomes for those engaged in nonviolent civil resistance are becoming increasingly polarised. ‘On the one hand, there has been a pattern of jury acquittals, when defendants have been permitted to explain their motivations in court… On the other, peaceful campaigners are now being arrested just for holding signs, have been banned from presenting their motivations to the jury, and in a recent case imprisoned for three years (more than the starting point sentence for a serious sexual assault).’

Lawyers and human rights campaigners have said that it is ‘deeply concerning’ to see protesters imprisoned just for mentioning the reason for their actions. This includes three Insulate Britain activists who were jailed in March for contempt of court for breaching the rulings made by the judge. There have also been questions about the legality of this.

Protesters and banners

Silas Reid said the trials were not about climate change, or whether the actions of Insulate Britain and similar organisations were to be applauded or condemned, but whether or not the protesters caused a public nuisance. The defendants’ motivations for acting the way they did had no relevance, he said.

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