This morning at Wood Green Crown Court in North London, Judge J. Dodd QC freed Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam, and retired GP Dr Diana Warner, who have both spent a month in prison on remand.
Both had been arrested along with three other people after taking part in a Zoom meeting where members of the relatively new Beyond Politics/Burning Pink political party were allegedly planning non-violent direct action. A recording of the meeting was made and handed to police by someone who simply infiltrated the meeting by professing support for their aims and strategy.
When the five were taken to court last month, all were placed on remand, but after an immediate appeal, three were released and given what are called ‘staggered curfews’ requiring them to be at their home addresses for various periods throughout the day, amounting to house arrest.
The judge at that hearing would not release Mr Hallam or Dr Warner, and they were remanded at Pentonville and Eastwood Park prisons respectively. This morning they appeared via video link, while the three others appeared in person at Wood Green for a case review.
Defence lawyers argued that under the 1976 Bail Act and the ‘no prospect test’ formalised in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Act 2012, remand should not be imposed by a court if there is no realistic prospect that, if convicted, the accused would receive a custodial sentence.
Given sentencing guidelines and case law over the punishment of non-violent protesters, the defence argued that the fear of further offences being committed was not enough to imprison someone, if those further offences were also not likely to lead to custodial sentences.
Despite the prosecution bringing up Hallam’s previous history, “a litany of protest”, and Judge Dodd remarking that Hallam’s record “doesn’t inspire confidence in me”, after four weeks in prison under what were described as very difficult conditions (including days of solitary confinement, lack of exercise, mice, cockroaches, and no vegan food other than cold water pot noodles) the two were released. New bail and curfew conditions were imposed on all – the staggered curfew was replaced by a simple overnight curfew, with a strong warning that any breach will likely mean a return to prison.
Additionally, Hallam was ordered to wear an electronic tag.
The next case management meeting will be at the end of November, but there is no likelihood of a trial until well into next year.
If you thought pre-crime and thought crime were something from dystopian sci-fi, bear in mind that these five passionate climate activists are on stringent bail conditions not to talk to each other, on the basis of a recording of a meeting allegedly planning non-violent actions designed to bring attention to the seriousness and lack of government action over the climate crisis.
Although they are under threat of further imprisonment that they mustn’t communicate with each other or plan any activism, their actual trial has no date and will certainly not take place for many months and possibly a year or more.
At a previous trial, in defiance of the judge’s directions, the jury sided with Hallam and delivered a ‘perverse judgement’ acquitting him of the criminal damage he’d caused at King’s College London. He persuaded them that his actions, as part of a successful campaign to force the college to divest from fossil-fuels, were necessary and proportionate, given the climate and ecological emergency.
Every month and every year that passes without a radical shift in systemic policy means millions more face drought, flooding, starvation, forced migration and even death, as climate changes begin to ravage our planet, but our state and judicial systems have effectively silenced these campaigners without trial, and without the opportunity to present their case in front of a jury.
Where is the justice in that?