In the second of three interviews, Kevin Blowe (Network for Police Monitoring) takes us through some of the ways in which the court system is placing new restrictions on defendants in protest cases.
Many ‘direct action’ climate or arms protesters fully expect to be arrested, in the hope of engaging with judge and jury in order to show that their protest is necessary and proportionate in the face of the issues they are exposing.
Over the years there have been many examples of acquittals, especially in cases heard by juries, where the defence has shown the actions were reasonable when all circumstances are considered. The Shell Seven, the Burning Pink trial, and the first Palestine Action Crown Court trial are recent examples covered in depth by Real Media.
But over the past year, here has been a crackdown on defendants’ rights to explain their motivations, and even more worrying, judges have threatened people with contempt proceedings for pointing out that juries can come to their own decisions. This seems to be a reaction to the fact that when you put environmental protesters in front of juries, those juries tend to be far more sympathetic than prosecutors, judges and tabloid journalists, who actually seem to be out of step with the public mood.
New laws (covered in our earlier interview) mean that just before Christmas last year there were a record number of non-violent protesters awaiting trial in UK prisons.
But the attempt to frighten people from protesting will fail because the issues will not simply go away, and the idea that “protest is illegal” is simply not true.
NetPol recommend that people get better informed about their rights on a protest and become better at looking out for each other. Also with the increase in police surveillance and gathering of information in preparation for the introduction of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders, we need to be much much better at resisting that too.
Watch out for the final part of this series – a DSEI arms fair special.