On 13th June 2017 the Director of Public Prosecutions asked the Royal Courts of Justice to review the decision last year by District Judge Angus Hamilton to acquit 8 defendants after a 5-day trial.
The eight people had been arrested under suspicion of ‘obstruction of the highway’ after trying to impede the set-up of the 2015 Defence and Security International (DSEI) arms fair at the Excel Centre in Docklands, London, during September 2015. They’d attempted to prevent deliveries of equipment, exhibition stands, and armed vehicles and weaponry, using a range of protest actions, including blocking the approach road, and using D-locks to attach their necks to access gates.
The court accepted their defence (under Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967) that they were justified in their actions as they were trying to prevent greater crimes from taking place. A string of expert witnesses, including Amnesty, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and Corporate Watch, described how the DSEI arms fair had hosted the sale of illegal torture equipment and munitions, and had facilitated the sale of arms to countries that continue to use them for illegal purposes.
Despite these issues being exposed by independent groups over many years, the state had failed to intervene, investigate or prosecute.
The magistrate was swayed by what he heard and, agreeing that there had been a “deficit of democracy”, he acquitted all the accused.
He then refused an appeal from the Crown Prosecution Service by way of “case stated”. The CPS then applied for a judicial review, but failed to pay the required lodgement fee in time, so the eight defendants were notified that the case was officially closed.
But then the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that there was an overriding public interest at stake, and so re-opened the case for the judicial review which took place on 13th June 2017.
There, Lord Justice Simon and Sir Kenneth Parker heard legal arguments from both sides while some of the DSEI protesters sat in court as ‘interested parties’.
Real Media interviewed Susanna Mengesha, and her solicitor Lydia Dagostino as well as Tom Franklin, who represented himself and spoke in court.
At the end of the hearing, the Lords said they would make their verdict public “as soon as possible”, but there is no way of knowing how long that might take. (The result of a judicial review brought by Campaign Against the Arms Trade relating to sales of arms to Saudi Arabia has been waiting for more than six months already).
The fear in this case is that the government is seeking to tighten the extent to which a ‘Section 3’ defence (ie justified force to prevent a greater crime) can be used in similar future cases. There is also a chance that if the magistrates verdict is overturned, that it will be classed as a miscarriage of justice and so the defendants may be tried yet again, years later and without the benefit of the justification defence. Given that the crime in question is a relatively minor ‘obstruction of the highway’ offence, this could be seen as a travesty of justice and a further example of what DJ Hamilton described as ‘a deficit of democracy’.
For more background on the original court case see https://indyrikki.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/dsei-arms-fair-verdict-protest-works/
The DSEI arms fair returns to the Excel Exhibition Centre in September this year, and a large coalition of groups are planning protests and actions during the week leading up to its opening. For more information, see StopTheArmsFair.org.uk