Legal move to crack down on climate protesters
The attorney general is considering asking the courts to clamp down on high-profile, direct-action protests on issues such as climate change, the Guardian can exclusively reveal.
Six Greenpeace protesters, who were acquitted in September of criminal damage for their demonstration at the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent, now face having their case referred to the court of appeal in what is believed to be an attempt to increase convictions for direct-action protests.
The six were acquitted after they successfully persuaded a jury that the demonstration, in which they scaled a 200 metre chimney in an attempt to paint Gordon Bin It , was intended to prevent greater damage to property from the imminent threat of global warming.
Although the verdict received international acclaim, described in the New York Times this week as one of 2008’s “ideas of the year” and endorsed by former US vice-president Al Gore, prosecutors are believed to have been angered at the acquittal. According to a letter seen by the Guardian, the attorney general is considering using her power to refer cases to the court of appeal to “clarify a point of law”. It is believed to be an attempt to limit the circumstances in which protesters could rely on “lawful excuse”.
If successful, the referral could prevent juries finding in favour of such “lawful excuse” arguments. Prosecutions of protesters against GM crops, incinerators, new roads and nuclear, chemical and arms trade companies have all collapsed after defendants argued that they had acted according to their consciences and that they were trying to protect property or prevent a greater crime.
Should the “lawful excuse” defence prove to be unusable by protesters, Britain can expect many more environmental and peace activists to be convicted – something which could backfire against a government accused of drastically curtailing the right to protest in the last five years.