Yesterday morning, supporters of Defend Our Juries gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London with placards calling for judges to take the climate crisis seriously, and in particular, calling for the suspension of Inner London Crown Court judge Silas Reid.

They were there to deliver a letter to the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr, signed in just a few days by more than 1800 people. Among them are well-known public figures like naturalist Chris Packham and environmentalist Jonathan Porritt CBE, international lawyers such as Farhana Yamin and Melinda Janki, and former NASA scientist Professor Hansen.

Lawyers, academics, journalists, health professionals, activists and hundreds of others from all walks of life join the call for the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office to look into Judge Reid’s conduct.

Silas Reid’s behaviour first caused concern when he imprisoned climate action defendants for simply mentioning climate change or fuel poverty in their defences – trying to explain their motives to a jury.

After lawyers raised concerns and activists began to sit silently outside courts with placards bearing words reminding juries of their long-held legal right to ‘acquit on their conscience’, Judge Reid ordered the arrest of several, and although the majority have either had charges dropped, or are still pending investigation, a significant test case is due to take place on 18th April, when Trudi Warner, a retired social worker, will face a High Court hearing over the matter.

What brought matters to a head and triggered the official complaint against Reid are statements he made during the recent trial of five women who cracked glass windows at JP Morgan in a protest over the bank’s massive financial support for fossil fuels.

After a series of trials against climate and arms activists which have resulted in jury verdicts of not guilty, the government recently won a ruling which severely restricts the last remaining defence available to defendants, known as ‘belief in consent’. But Judge Reid has gone further and used his privilege in the JP Morgan trial to cast doubt on the reality of the climate crisis, telling the jurors that:

“The circumstances of the damage do not include any climate crisis which may or may not exist in the world at the moment … Whether climate change is as dangerous as each of the defendants may clearly and honestly believe or is not, is irrelevant and does not form any part of the circumstances of the damage.”

He also referred to the placards jurors may have seen outside the court, and in what the Defend Our Juries complaint describes as contrary to the fundamental democratic principle of jury independence, (‘jury equity’ or ‘jury nullification’) he threatened the jury with criminal charges if they followed their conscience, telling them that:

“It is a criminal offence for a juror to do anything from which it can be concluded that a decision will be made on anything other than the evidence.”

 Speaking anonymously in Private Eye, a leading criminal law King’s Counsel is quoted:
“I’ve never encountered a judge threatening jurors in the way that Judge Silas Reid did. That suggests a clear determination by him to deter them from returning a verdict independently and without fear of punishment.”

Yesterday the letter was read out by Defend Our Juries spokesperson Dr Clive Dolphin, and Trudi Warner read a message from Melinda Janki, winner of the 2023 Commonwealth Lawyers Rule Of Law Award who said:

“It’s madness to send environmental defenders to prison just for using the words ‘climate change’ in court. It’s unlawful to threaten a jury with criminal charges for applying their conscience to a case. The rule of law depends on accountability for judges who abuse their powers, which is why I’m joining the call for an investigation into Judge Reid’s conduct.”