August 12, 2011 : Ratcliffe Climate activists convictions quashed by Court of Appeal

admin's picture

On 20th July convictions against 20 climate activists were quashed by the Court of Appeal after it was revealed that key evidence had been deliberately withheld from their trial. They had previously been found guilty of conspiring to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar coal power station in December 2010. They appealed their convictions after a trial against six other activists charged with the same offence collapsed when it emerged that recordings taken by outed undercover police office Mark Kennedy had been deliberately withheld by the prosecution.

In his judgment the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said that the convictions had been a miscarriage of justice, and that something had gone “seriously wrong with the trial” when the prosecution failed to disclose evidence which would have “significantly undermined” the case against the defendants. The full judgment can be found here

The activists made this statement:

“We are 20 of the 114 people who were preemptively arrested near E.ON’s Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station over two years ago. During our trial last year we argued that our plan to safely shut down the power station was necessary in order to protect the ever escalating numbers of people dying as a result of climate change. We later found out our trial was rigged by the police and CPS to get convictions.

“Through placing undercover officers in our movement, using mass preemptive arrest and rigging our trial, the state has deliberately attempted to silence dissenting voices. This quelling of dissent, now repeated in the young people facing prison for protesting against the attacks on public services, is fundamentally undemocratic. It is yet another example of those in power protecting their own interests.

“Whether it’s E.ON Energy or News International, the government and police have a track record of colluding with big business. We need to look at the root causes of climate change, and ask why the profits of corporations such as E.ON are being prioritised over future generations, and the millions already on the front line of our changing climate. Taking action on climate change is not an act of moral righteousness, its about protecting our future. History is full of examples of ordinary people acting to defend their rights and those of others, and we need a strong movement of people doing just that.

“Winning this appeal is just one small victory in the fight against the systemically political nature of policing. We stand in solidarity with all those have suffered injustice from the state or face repression for daring to take political action.”

Legal implications

However, the ruling by the Court of Appeal has implications beyond this case. In his statement Lord Judge referred to a previous ruling by Judge Flaux. Flaux had allowed the defendants to use a justification defence based on necessity. In this case the defendants argued that they were impelled to act as they did to prevent imminent death and serious injury to others as a result of burning coal and its resultant emissions. Greenpeace activists used a similar defence of 'lawful excuse' following their occupation of Kingsnorth power station in 2008.

The Court of Appeal said that while it was not appropriate to go behind Judge Flaux’s ruling:

“Neverthless we entertain reservations about it. The circumstances in which what would otherwise amount to criminal conduct may be justified on the basis of the honestly held, political beliefs of the perpetrators, will need reconsideration in this court on another occasion.”

The Court of Appeal also observed that Judge Flaux “found himself unable to follow” the observations of Lord Hoffman in R v. Jones (Margaret) (approved by 3 other members of the House of Lords) , concerning protestors against the Iraq war:

“In a case in which the defence requires that the acts of the defendant should in all the circumstances have been reasonable, his acts must be considered in the context of a functioning state in which legal disputes can be peacefully submitted to the courts and disputes over what should be law or government policy can be submitted to the arbitrament of the democratic process. In such circumstances, the apprehension, however honest or reasonable, of acts which are thought to be unlawful or contrary to the public interest, cannot justify the commission of criminal acts and the issue of justification should be withdrawn from the jury.”

This amounts to a fairly clear indication from the court of appeal that the use of necessity type defences for taking direct action on climate change (and possibly other issues) may well be challenged in future.