15th May 2023. Outside Inner London Crown Court.
This doesn’t look dramatic, but Dr Juliette Brown, a 52-year-old consultant Psychiatrist, seen here, is risking arrest and imprisonment for contempt of court. Before sitting silently on the side of the pavement for an hour she said:
“We’re ordinary people, worried about our safety, security, health, the rule of law and a stable, cohesive society. When governments are failing to protect us from harm, we must have the chance to say so, and to explain our actions to a jury of our peers.”
A series of events at the court brought her and 23 others to take this action:
During February and March this year, three climate change protestors were given prison sentences by this court. David Nixon, Giovanna Lewis and Amy Pritchard were imprisoned, not because they had protested, but because they disobeyed a direction from the judge – that they should not tell the jury why they had protested. In telling the jury why, the judge said, they were in contempt of court. Their cases have been taken up by The Good Law Project.
On March 29th, Trudi Warner, a retired 68-year-old social worker, was ordered to appear at the Old Bailey for contempt. Her alleged crime? Standing outside Inner London Crown Court she had held up a sign that said “Jurors: you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience.” The Solicitor General, Michael Tomlinson KC, has informed Trudi that he is minded to apply for her committal to prison for doing this.
The message references a plaque at the Old Bailey commemorating the Penn-Mead trial of 1670, in which jurors were charged by the judge to deliver a guilty verdict for two Quaker preachers, accused of unlawful assembly. The jurors refused, with the result that the Quaker preacher, William Penn, and all twelve of the jury were sent to prison.
The jurors, released on a writ of habeas corpus, sued the mayor and recorder, winning their case before the Court of Common Pleas, in a historic decision that conceded that judges “may try to open the eyes of the jurors, but not to lead them by the nose.”
The case “established the right of juries to give their verdict according to their convictions”. The precedent is so significant that it is taught in schools to this day.
Four of the 24 current protestors outside the court are Quakers, creating a very direct link with this case.
In April, three more people, Cathy Eastburn, Sally Davidson and Oliver Rock, were arrested and charged variously with attempting to pervert the course of justice and obstructing the course of justice, for placing posters in the area local to the court, conveying the same message.
So when 24 people (a mix of legal and health professionals, a priest, a retired Detective Sergeant, an Olympic gold medallist, Quakers and others) held up the same sign outside the same court, the expectation was that they would also be arrested.
The group handed in a letter explaining their solidarity action, so that there could be no doubt that the judge was aware of it.
But they were not arrested, nor even spoken to or asked to leave. Fourteen of the group returned the following day, with the same result. It would appear that for now the court has backed down. But that does not mean that protestors who use phrases such as ‘climate change’ or ‘fuel poverty’ in court won’t continue to be imprisoned for contempt of court.
Supporting the protestors, Rabbi Jeffrey Newman from North London said:
“Intention is an ancient concept, fundamental in Jewish & British law, for example in distinguishing between murder and manslaughter. It seems to me, therefore, that we cannot disregard motivation when we come to look at actions and consequences in other contexts.”
Ex-Detective Sergeant Paul Stephens (58) holds a copy of the letter he delivered to the judge. Before the action he said:
“I joined the police in 1983 to protect the good people from the bad. Simplistic I know but I was 19. The legal system in the UK is doing the exact opposite. They are protecting polluters, allowing increased harm and obscene profits; whilst prosecuting people trying to save life in a way that is so unjust; gagging them from sharing their motivation with the jury. Extinction changes everything and the legal system must wake up and become a force for good.”
Tim Crosland (above), the former Government lawyer, and now Director of Plan B said:
“The growing levels of oppression in this country were publicly exposed during the coronation. People were bundled into police vans just for quietly and peacefully expressing their point of view.
In these dark times, it’s good to be reminded that when people come together, in nonviolent resistance and solidarity, we have the combined strength to face down the abuse of power in general and the excesses of Judge Reid in particular.”
2nd June 2023.
Plan B has just released a press release.
‘In a dramatic escalation of tensions over the role of juries in criminal trials, a Crown Court Judge has referred 24 people, including doctors, a priest, an Olympic Gold medalist, a retired Detective Sergeant and a former Government lawyer, to the Attorney General for contempt of court for holding up signs outside court. If prosecuted and convicted the 24 could now face up to 2 years’ imprisonment.’
25th Sept. 2023
A few days after Michael Tomlinson KC, the Solictor General, announced his decision to apply for the committal to prison of Ms Warner, 252 members of the public replicated her action outside criminal courts around the country, from Truro to Carlisle, from Swansea to the Old Bailey.
Speaking on behalf of the Defend Our Juries campaign, Dr Alice Clack (above), a consultant gynaecologist, said:
“We face an increasing state of repression in Britain. As reported by The Times, the rapid erosion of political freedoms in this country now ‘put[s] [the] UK on a par with El Salvador’. Lawyers are warning of the threat to trial by jury, as defendants are banned from explaining their motivations in court. The right of juries to acquit a defendant, irrespective of the opinion of the judge, is being cynically concealed from them.Today the British public has provided a timely reminder that if we want to hold on to the freedoms we prize so highly, we need to be ready to stand up for them.”
Biologist Dr Susi Arnott (above) said:
“I’m a scientist, not a lawyer, but we learned about jury trials and common law at secondary school in the 1970s. Perhaps we need test cases that re-assert the right of juries to be informed of the facts of a case, and to deliberate in accordance with their conscience. It’s a perversion of justice to see these rights being denied, in court, by judges who seem to see corporate interests as more important.”
Another who risked prison today outside the Old Bailey, Dr Abi Perrin (above), a scientist, said:
“In 2023 telling the truth is being treated as a criminal act, with people prosecuted for displaying facts in public, and imprisoned for explaining their motivations in their own defence in a court of law. I am deeply afraid of a world where truth, science and morality are not important, or where we are not free to fight for them.”
 Letter to Judge Reid
15 May 2023
Dear Judge Reid
Today we unite to uphold the right of jurors to make decisions on their conscience and in context
We write to explain why we are outside the court today to uphold the centuries old principle that juries are entitled to make decisions according to their conscience. The principle is so foundational it is taught to our children at school.
It was first established in 1670 when the Recorder of London tried to compel a jury to convict two Quaker preachers, William Penn and William Mead, for holding an unlawful assembly. Chief Justice Vaughan, of the Court of Common Pleas, held the Recorder’s approach to be unlawful. He ruled that juries have the right to “give their verdict according to their convictions”.
This principle safeguards not only religious minorities. It provides for a jury to reject any prosecution which they perceive to be politically motivated, an abuse of power or contrary to basic morality. It is why we prize the right to trial by jury so highly. It puts the moral sense of ordinary people at the heart of the criminal justice system. If the Government were to pass new laws tomorrow, which criminalised people for their racial origins, union membership or their political beliefs, trial by jury would stand in the way of their effective implementation.
But before jurors can apply their common sense to a situation, they need to understand the relevant context. If a woman charged with assaulting her husband has for years been subject to violent domestic abuse by the same man, the jury cannot do justice to the case if they are unaware of that history. If those charged with public nuisance (an offence punishable with life imprisonment) have supported a road-blocking campaign only because they are in fear for their own lives and the lives of their children and loved ones, the jury should be able to take that into account. Indeed, when jurors have been permitted to hear such evidence, they have often found defendants to be not guilty (even when the basic facts of the case have been admitted). But when jurors are denied the opportunity to hear why defendants have taken their actions, they are also denied the opportunity to exercise their moral common sense, contrary to natural justice, the right to a fair trial and the ancient principle established by Penn and Mead.
It is wrong that those taking nonviolent direct action against the Government’s ongoing support for new fossil fuel projects and inaction on home insulation are banned from explaining their motivation to the jury. We are shocked that people have been sent to prison just for using the words “climate change” and “fuel poverty”. And it is astonishing that in 2023, but a short distance from the mother of parliaments, people have been arrested just for holding up a sign which sets out the same principle of the criminal justice system, which is displayed in marble in the Central Criminal Court (also known as “the Old Bailey”).
We are legal and health professionals, faith leaders, Quakers, teachers and ordinary people. Today we are all holding up the same sign – setting out the same fundamental principle of law – for which others have been arrested. We are ready to face the consequences, even if we are arrested and imprisoned.
In doing so, it is not our intention to influence the jury or the outcome of any criminal proceedings. It would be paradoxical if literally upholding the law were considered to be an interference with the course of justice. To the contrary, our purpose in taking this action is to defend the right to trial by jury and to uphold the rule of law.
We take this action in solidarity with our fellow citizens who have been arrested and all those who face repression in this country and around the world for standing up to the fossil fuel companies and their political allies. We take it in solidarity with all those on the frontline of the climate and ecological crisis, including those who lost their lives in the last few days to wildfires in Siberia and their homes to flash-flooding in Somerset, and the millions facing famine in the Horn of Africa. We take it in solidarity with the young and economically marginalised people of this country. It is they who are left to pay the highest price for the suppression of evidence that has been the story of this crisis since the 1980s, when Exxon and others first learned their products were driving the world towards catastrophe by the middle of this century.
Last week it was revealed that leading City law firms have supported nearly £1.5 TRILLION in fossil fuel transactions since 2018. It would be naïve to imagine that the profits being generated by the country’s most prestigious law firms have no influence on the legal system as a whole. You may also recall that after Judge Robert Altham sent the “Frack Free 3” to prison in 2018, his family links to the fracking business were exposed. Quashing the sentences of imprisonment in that case, the Court of Appeal said, “it is well established that committing crimes, at least non-violent crimes, in the course of peaceful protest does not generally impute high levels of culpability”. It’s indicative of the pace at which ‘well established’ principles have been eroded, that just a few weeks ago, Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker, were imprisoned for 3 years and 2 years, 7 months respectively, for climbing a road bridge and hanging a banner calling for an end to new oil and gas projects. Other members of the legal profession are more far-sighted. Last September, more than 250 lawyers published an open letter, warning that our current trajectory “risks mass loss of life and threatens the conditions for a stable civilisation, including the rule of law”. In March, more than 170 publicly declared they will refuse to act in support of new fossil fuel projects or to prosecute those engaged in non-violent direct action.
Meanwhile our country’s health professionals warn of an unprecedented crisis in public health:
“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.” The Lancet, 2021
We leave you with three more relevant quotations:
“It’s appropriate to be scared.”
Sir David King, for Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government (Evening Standard, September 2019)
“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
“Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”
23 Responsible Citizens, namely
Revd Dr Sue Parfitt, priest and retired psychotherapist
Dr Patrick Hart, GP
Dr Diana Lewen Warner, retired GP
Etienne Stott MBE, Olympic Champion London 2012
Dr Juliette Brown, Consultant Psychiatrist
Paul Stephens, retired Detective Sergeant, Metropolitan Police
Tim Crosland, former Government lawyer
Laura Kaarina Korte, Legal support worker
Rajan Naidu, Human Rights Activist
Rafela Fitzhugh, Teacher
Joanna Hindley, Midwife
Alice Ruch Clack, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Phil Laurie, Engineer
Stuart William Drysdale, Retired GP
Neil Stevenson, retired GP
Steve Fay, Physiotherapist
Ana Heyatawin, disabled artist
Angie Zelter, environmental and peace campaigner
Simon Bramwell, Carer/ outdoor educator
Val Saunders, Art tutor and care worker
David Mckenny, Company Director
Fran Wilde, Retired Arts Educator
Indigo Rumbelow, Campaigner