Trying Trident

IssueDecember 2017 - January 2018
News by Catherine Tauriello

After two years, ‘Public Interest Case Against Trident’ (PICAT) finally received a decision from the UK attorney general in late November on whether it had permission to prosecute the prime minister and the defence secretary for war crimes in relation to Britain’s nuclear weapons. Britain’s only nuclear weapons are Trident missiles – which are carried on Trident nuclear submarines.

PICAT is an initiative of the Trident Ploughshares direct action network. The project was begun by peace activist Angie Zelter, the late George Farebrother, and Robbie Manson, lawyer and author of Pax Legalis.

The groups that make up PICAT have applied to their local courts all over England and Wales for prosecutions of the UK defence secretary – and been refused.

Too much death

The first effort began in October 2015. PICAT saw the decision of local courts not to prosecute as an opportunity to press the attorney general. The attorney general’s consent is required to prosecute anyone for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.

The war crime that the prime minister and defence secretary are said to have committed is conspiring to cause excessive incidental death, injury or damage contrary to Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

By ‘excessive’, international law means that the death and injury to civilians, and the damage to civilian objects and to the natural environment, would be ‘excessive’ in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage of the nuclear attack.

The PICAT website has evidence to support this position.

Delay and decision

Scottish peace activist David Mackenzie states, in a letter available on PICAT’s website: ‘it [the prosecution] is focussed on English and Welsh courts, the project has sharp relevance for Trident-opposing Scots.’

Five of the groups associated with PICAT each submitted separate requests to prosecute. The attorney general informed them in August 2016 that because they were associated with the same organisation that it would be treated as a single request.

In July of this year, a formal complaint was submitted to the attorney general about the delay in his response.

On 10 November, the office of the attorney general finally replied with a decision. Julia Crouch, deputy director of the public law and litigation team, wrote to Angie Zelter: ‘In the Attorney General’s view, the material provided by the PICAT Project is insufficient to show that any offence has been committed. Accordingly, the Attorney General has declined to give his consent to the proposed prosecution.’

The PICAT project is considering its next move.

Topics: Nuclear weapons