On the day that the Conservative Government announced more than 100 new oil and gas licences, against the advice of many international bodies and almost all climate scientists, the Court of Appeal has defended the long prison sentences which were given to Just Stop Oil protesters Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker by HHJ Collery KC at Basildon Crown Court in April this year.

Morgan and Marcus were found guilty of Public Nuisance relating to their banner drop on Queen Elizabeth Bridge in October 2021. In the trial, the judge ruled out any legal “reasonable excuse”, and when sentencing, he said that Mr. Trowland ‘believed’ he knew better than anyone else and that it did not matter if people suffered in consequence.

Many today would suggest that Rishi Sunak cannot possibly ‘believe’ he knows better than most scientists, but that the fact that so many in his entourage benefit directly from fossil fuel money might suggest his government’s announcement is driven by greed not science and that it simply “does not matter if people suffer in consequence”.

In the appeal last week, defence lawyers argued that Judge Collery had failed to consider Article 10 and 11 human rights as a starting point, ignoring the UK’s own Human Rights Act 1998. Even the prosecution lawyers admitted that, in the absence of the need for “deterrence”, the sentences would be manifestly excessive. In his sentencing, Judge Collery himself spoke about deterrence as “very much in mind”.

At the time of the trial, both men had already served 6 months on remand (equivalent to a 12 month sentence and historically already the longest ever served for peaceful protest).

The Court of Appeal spent a few days reviewing the case, handing down their judgement this afternoon.

The new offence of public nuisance replaces the older common law definition and was brought in as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last year in direct response to a wave of more disruptive protest actions sparked by scientists’ warnings of impending climate collapse.

Indeed, there is clear evidence of direct lobbying and pressure by fossil fuel interests in the formulation of the new legislation, and lawyers were warning of its likely chilling effect on peaceful protest.

The judgement today apes (at Para 73) Judge Collery’s original sentencing remark that “your motives were your concern about climate change, but you chose in consequence to take totally disproportionate protest action”.

ICYMI watch Paul Powlesland’s powerful speech outside the High Court, where he describes the new legislation, and its application, as inherently political. He offered a challenge to any judge to a public debate as to what is “proportionate” when we are faced with the greatest crisis in human history in which many millions, possibly billions will die.

The appeal judges (Lady Justice Carr, Mrs Justic Cutts, Mrs Justice Thornton) wrote about the hundreds of thousands of members of the public who were affected, some very significantly, as well as the road network that was essential to the growth, wellbeing and balance of the nation’s economy. But they didn’t compare this for example with the 33 million people affected by flooding in Pakistan last year, or the nearly 10 million still deprived of safe drinking water there at the time of Marcus and Morgan’s sentencing.

The judges described the sentencing as severe but not excessive, and in line with Parliament’s intention in introducing the new laws. They concede a legitimate aim of the sentence is deterrence, but claim it will not have a ‘chilling effect’ on the right to peaceful protest more generally. An increasing number of notable lawyers believe otherwise…