Defending the coal train hijackers

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by Jonathan Stevenson

Members of the jury.
I’m going to try to summarise why we feel that we are not guilty, why we feel that what we did was right, despite the very proper laws against obstructing trains.

From what evidence we have been able to get across to you, with his honour’s indulgence, we hope that you can see that these facts [about coal and climate change] speak for themselves, and our actions, though harmful, were indeed necessary to try to stop a greater harm. And if you agree with that then you still have a legal right – as the jury – to find us not guilty.

You’ve heard it said already I think, that the judge decides about the law, but the jury decide about the facts. What does that mean? It means you the jury can decide as you see fit. You the jury have a constitutional right to follow your own judgement and not necessarily follow the judge’s directions to find us guilty. In law this principle is called the jury’s power of nullification.

Jury nullification

Perhaps I can explain this with a quote from a very senior judge, Lord Denning. He said: “This principle was established as long ago as 1670 in a celebrated case of the Quakers, William Penn and William Mead. All that they had done was to preach in London on a Sunday afternoon. They were charged with causing an unlawful and tumultuous assembly there.

“The judge directed the jury to find the Quakers guilty, but they refused. The jury said Penn was guilty of preaching, but not of unlawful assembly. “The judge refused to accept this verdict. He threatened them with all sorts of pains and punishments. He kept them ‘all night without meat, drink, fire, or other accommodation: they had not so much as a chamber pot, though desired’. They still refused to find the Quakers guilty of an unlawful assembly.

“He kept them another night and still they refused. He then commanded each to answer to his name and give his verdict separately. Each gave his verdict ‘Not Guilty’. “For this the judge fined them 40 marks apiece and cast them into prison until it was paid.

“One of them Edward Bushell, thereupon brought his (case) before the Court of the King’s Bench. It was there held that no judge had any right to imprison a juryman for finding against his direction on a point of law; for the judge could never direct what the law was without knowing the facts, and of the facts the jury were the sole judge. The jury were thereupon set free.”

The freedom that you have is what enables the law, where necessary, to move forward. Justice is the force that underpins and breathes life into the law, and it is your role as the jury to see that justice as you see it is done.

We all know that times change, and what was acceptable in one era may not be acceptable in another. You have heard of how it was once legal to own other people, how it was illegal for women to vote. Well, one way or another, the law will eventually have to change and acknowledge the harm that carbon emissions do to all of us, by making them illegal. The only question is whether the law will catch up in time for there to be anything left to protect.

180 murders

The prosecution have not challenged the facts we presented to you on oath about the consequences of burning coal at Drax. 180 human lives lost every year, species lost forever. There is a direct, unequivocal, proven link between the emissions of carbon dioxide at this power station and the appalling consequences of climate change. That many of those consequences impact on the poor of other nations, or people we don’t know, should not in any way negate the reality of this suffering.

We got on that train to stop those emissions, because all other methods in our democracy were failing. The 22 were found guilty, 7 others had pleaded guilty at the start. They will be sentenced on 4 September.

Topics: Climate Change