‘Defend Our Juries’

IssueOctober - November 2023
News by David Polden

On 25 September, over 200 campaigners took arrestable action by holding up signs aimed at jurors outside criminal courts in Bristol, London, Manchester and elsewhere in the UK, as part of the growing public campaign, ‘Defend Our Juries’.

They were showing solidarity with Insulate Britain activist Trudi Warner, 68, who is being prosecuted for holding up a placard outside Inner London crown court on 27 March. It said: ‘Jurors you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience.’

Richard Vogler, professor of comparative criminal law and criminal justice at the University of Sussex, has written that Trudi was ‘simply proclaiming one of the fundamental principles of the common law; the right of a jury to decide a case according to its conscience.’

He asks: ‘[W]hy aren’t juries trusted to be told exactly what their powers are?’

The decision to prosecute Trudi for contempt of court was made by the solicitor general, Michael Tomlinson KC (a government minister and Conservative MP) on 19 September.

He considers Trudi’s message to jurors to be ‘something that interferes or creates a real risk of interference with the administration of justice.’

On 17 August, a letter signed by 40 people who had taken part in similar placard-holding protests was sent to the solicitor general demanding that if Trudi was charged with contempt of court they should be also.

Barrister Paul Powlesland noticed that Trudi’s trial ‘will be at the Old Bailey, which has a marble plaque in almost the same terms as her placard’. The plaque celebrates a legal victory in 1670 ‘which established The Right of Juries to give their Verdict according to their Convictions’.

The maximum penalty for contempt of court is two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.