Government’s Attempt to Strip Climate Protesters of Legal Defence Sparks Outcry Over Jury Rights

London, United Kingdom – A high-profile climate activist, who was acquitted last year of criminal damage in a climate trial, is speaking out against the attorney general’s attempt to remove one of the last remaining legal defenses for climate protesters. The case is heading to the court of appeal on Wednesday, where the attorney general, Victoria Prentis, will argue that the defense used by the activist should no longer be available to climate activists.

The defense in question, known as “lawful excuse,” allows defendants to argue that they had a lawful excuse for their actions because they believed the organization affected by the action would consent to the damage if they were aware of the climate emergency. Several climate protesters have successfully used this defense in recent high-profile court cases, resulting in their acquittals.

In response, Prentis is seeking to challenge the availability of this defense for climate activists, arguing that it should not be applicable to acts of protest. While she cannot contest a not guilty verdict made by a jury, she can appeal on a point of law to the court of appeal. Prentis claims that she seeks “clarity on the law as guidance for future cases” involving environmental protesters.

The activist, referred to as C for legal reasons, has expressed her frustration, seeing Prentis’ move as an assault on the rights of juries to make their own decisions based on the evidence presented during a trial. C argues that the attorney general is trying to retrospectively challenge the jury’s decision and undermine the democratic right for a defendant to have a jury decide their verdict.

C also voiced concern that if the attorney general’s appeal is successful, it would not only undermine her not guilty verdict but also remove a crucial defense for all future climate defendants. According to documents submitted to the court, Prentis is specifically targeting the use of the defense by protesters, rather than all defendants in criminal damage cases.

The attorney general’s move follows a series of jury acquittals of climate protesters who engaged in acts of civil disobedience, such as spray-painting buildings. Last year alone, nine activists were found not guilty of criminal damage at the London headquarters of HSBC bank, and several individuals were acquitted of conspiracy charges related to their actions at the party headquarters of major political parties.

This legal battle takes place in the context of a wider crackdown on climate protesters in the UK. Last year, restrictions were imposed on environmental protesters during trials that prevented them from mentioning climate change or the civil rights movement to explain their motivation. The use of civil injunctions and excessive courtroom restrictions have been criticized by the UN rapporteur on environmental defenders as “draconian.”

As the court of appeal prepares to hear the attorney general’s case, the outcome will have significant implications for the future of climate protests in the UK and the rights of defendants to mount a lawful excuse defense. The activist involved in the case hopes that her voice will be heard and that her acquittal will not be undermined.