27 climate acquittals, so many court cases

IssueApril - May 2023
News by David Polden

While Extinction Rebellion is temporarily quitting disruptive action to concentrate on mobilising mass demonstrations, Just Stop Oil (JSO) and Insulate Britain (IB) have said they will continue their disruptive action campaigns.

However, they also seem to have largely suspended their actions while engaged in fighting the many court cases arising from previous actions. However JSO has still been organising ‘slow marches’ to hold up traffic in many towns and cities.

Palestine Action also seems to be concentrating its energies on the many court cases it faces from its direct action campaign against Israeli arms firm Elbit Systems’s UK factories.

In the last two months, JSO and IB court cases have resulted in 27 acquittals and 58 guilty sentences in total.

Some 13 trials of JSO activists have taken place in that time. There have been acquittals for 23 JSO folk (mostly on highway obstruction). The 39 guilty verdicts were for: highway obstruction (20); aggravated trespass (10); causing a public nuisance (6); and criminal damage (3).

Most of those found guilty were ordered to pay many hundreds of pounds. The highest penalty was £1,900 for criminal damage.

Those sentenced were all conditionally discharged (further punishment if you commit the same offence in the near future).

The nine JSO campaigners found guilty of causing a public nuisance by sitting on the track at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix had sentencing deferred to 30 March.

On 22 February, three JSO activists who had been imprisoned without trial for 109 days were granted bail at Southwark crown court.

They were released subject to stringent conditions including: a curfew; staying at least one mile away from the M25; not having any contact with other defendants; and not participating in climate change demonstrations.

The three were alongside 15 others in court charged with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’ in connection with M25 gantry actions in November.

Two were returned to prison to await bail hearings in other cases.

Insulate Britain

Trials of IB activists for public nuisance have resulted four acquittals (for highway obstruction) and 19 guilty sentences: 15 had sentencing postponed; three were given suspended sentences and community work; and one person was jailed for five weeks, after telling the judge he would continue civil resistance.

Six IB campaigners had a hung jury, which will likely mean a retrial.

Defendants gagged

‘Committing a public nuisance’ was a charge in many of the cases just mentioned, and also features in upcoming trials for climate activists. This charge has to be tried in crown court, in front of a jury, because the maximum sentence is life imprisonment!

The government defines ‘public nuisance’ as ‘a common law offence involving environmental danger or loss of amenity or offensive public behaviour.’

Judges have been instructing defendants (after the jury has been removed from court) that this law does not allow a defence of motivation, such as combatting climate change or fuel poverty.

One JSO and five IB activists have been brave enough to disobey the judges’ instruction in these cases and spoken in court about their motivations. They have been sentenced to seven or eight weeks’ imprisonment for contempt of court.

In the case of two of these IB activists, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on their and a fellow defendant’s public nuisance charges. This clearly enraged the judge, who told the defendants: ‘You really went on until there was no longer a chance of reaching a verdict.’

Palestine Action

On 17 March, two PA activists were found guilty of obstruction at, and criminal damage to, Elbit subsidiary UAV Tactical Systems factory in Leicester last April. The company claimed that it lost £9,000 as a result.

At Leicester magstrates’ court, Alistair Gwynne and Muhamad Binhishamudin (both 21 and from Manchester) were each charged £509 in fines, compensation, court costs and the victim’s surcharge.

In the latest PA action, two activists set off stink bombs at an engineering awards ceremony in London on 22 February.

One activist took the mic on stage, saying: ‘This morning, 10 Palestinians were murdered by the occupation forces... using Elbit’s weapons. The engineering industry is guilty of genocide.’

More PA trials are due soon.