The Attorney General and Lord Walney

We reported recently on a failed attempt by the Attorney General (AG) to prosecute Trudi Warner for contempt of court. Trudi had been campaigning with Defend Our Juries to raise awareness of the legal principle of ‘jury nullification’ – a jury’s right to acquit on their conscience. This power bestowed on ordinary people is essential in a judicial system which is under increasing political pressure from various quarters to clamp down on protest. After failing the first time in court, the AG announced she would be appealing the ruling and trying to imprison Trudi again, despite Justice Saini characterising the case as ‘fanciful’.

Last year we revealed also that the then head of the Attorney General’s office had had several meetings with unnamed Israeli representatives, during which it seems they may have discussed ways to prevent direct action protests at UK sites of Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems.

Today, John Woodcock (Lord Walney), the former Chair of Friends Of Israel, held a press conference to promote a new report outlining additional ways to outlaw protests over arms to Israel. Woodcock wrote the report as an independent ‘Adviser On Political Violence and Disruption’, but he is also the Chair of an arms industry grouping called the Purpose Defence Coalition, whose members include arms manufacturers which export to Israel, and over the past decade he has made numerous trips to Israel paid for by the Israeli government or other pro-Israel lobbyists.

His recommendations include proscribing Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil as ‘extreme protest groups’ to ban their freedom of assembly and ability to fund-raise. The report also suggests extending police powers to clampdown on regular pro-Gaza marches, force protest groups to pay compensation for disruption, and vastly extend police powers to plant bugs, tap phones and carry out other covert surveillance (normally only authorised for serious terrorist suspects). He also recommends creating buffer zones with additional police powers around not only arms manufacturers, but also fossil fuel, media and government buildings.

Lord Walney is quoted as saying that “Militant groups like Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil are using criminal tactics to create mayhem and hold the public and workers to ransom without fear of consequence.” But in reality they have regularly faced criminal legal consequences, have had new laws specifically drafted against them, and have had new rulings imposed which limit their available legal defences in court.

Despite this tsunami of state repression, juries have regularly acquitted protesters on hearing evidence of Elbit Systems’ armaments being tested on civilians in Gaza, or learning how the government and fossil fuel companies are wilfully ignoring science, breaking international agreements and leading us to a hellish climate future.

So now it looks like the government (cheer-led by the likes of Suella Braverman) wants to sanction certain campaign groups and limit their ability to organise, in an attempt to bypass the legal system entirely. And the person pushing these recommendations against arms and climate protest groups is not only an arms enthusiast, but is also bankrolled by lobbyists Rud Pederson whose clients include fossil-fuel extraction conglomerate Glencore. Lord Walney is also paid by the Purpose Business Coalition, whose members include BP.

James Cleverly presented the supposedly independent report to Parliament today in a written statement under the “Motion for Unopposed Return” procedure, which prevents debate while allowing the document to be published as a House of Commons paper, giving it parliamentary privilege and legal immunity. Shami Chakrabarti has condemned this process as an ‘abuse’.

Lord Walney – John Woodcock

Lord Walney/John Woodcock was a former Labour MP for Barrow and was a very vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn, but he was suspended from the Labour Party after allegations were made that he harassed a female former aide, sexting her over a two year period – a claim he of course denies. In 2019, he stood down as an independent MP, urging his voters to vote Conservative to prevent a Corbyn Labour victory, then given a life peerage by Boris Johnson.

Although Lord Walney’s supposed independence as a government adviser is clearly open to debate, there is also a wider issue that the Conservative government, in what looks like its last flailing months of power, seems hellbent on flaunting international law on several fronts:

  • Passing the risible ruling that Rwanda is a safe destination for refugees (while still accepting asylum applications from same), thereby side-stepping responsibilities under international refugee conventions.
  • Ignoring UN concerns over Julian Assange’s treatment and trying to push through the US extradition process, breaching the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (although that was stalled yesterday when the High Court granted Assange the right to a full appeal hearing).
  • Granting new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, undermining international treaties not to harm the territories of other states (with reference to the Paris Agreement).
  • Continuing support and arms exports to Israel, risking complicity in crimes against humanity, even while the ICJ is seeking international arrest warrants for Israeli leaders.

Yesterday’s protest at the Crown Prosecution Service

Protest yesterday outside the CPS, Petty France, Westminster.

The CPS is, by its own guidelines supposed to be politically independent, but as outlined above, they seem to have become part of the campaign to outlaw legitimate protest especially when that protest exposes breaches of international law.

There are two tests the CPS must pass before launching a prosecution, the evidence test, and the public interest test. So yesterday morning, CPS workers were greeted by a large banner asking them whether they were behaving lawfully, and they were handed leaflets posing questions and offering advice and help.

The leaflet asks workers if they are being asked to do things inconsistent with their code of conduct or in breach of existing international law, and offers suggestions for how they can safely challenge such conflicts without jeopardising their jobs.

The First Division Association (FDA), one of the unions representing civil servants, has launched a judicial review against the government over its Rwanda policy. The controversial 2024 Safety Of Rwanda Act gives ministers the power to overrule a European Court of Human Rights “Rule 39 order” –  a type of injunction delaying a deportation prior to a final court hearing. This will allow the government to send straight to Rwanda without proper legal scrutiny. The FDA are concerned that staff implementing this policy would be in breach of international law, and therefore their own code of conduct.

Defend Our Juries point out that this is just one of the several issues facing workers, and it indicates a growing erosion of the vital principle of political independence, thus putting civil servants under pressure to ignore their consciences and carry out duties they are morally opposed to, and in direct conflict with their code of conduct.