Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Lawful Excuse

Criminal damage is OK, apparently, if it's for a good cause.

That's the upshot of the verdict delivered by a jury at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday. They acquitted 6 men & women who caused £30,000 of damage to an industrial facility in Medway, Kent last October.

The 6 were, of course, climate activists, protesting the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth. Their defence - assisted by James Hansen, an alarmist who has previously called for energy company executives to be put on trial - claimed that their actions had "saved £1 million worth of damage to the environment".

"These defendants did not climb the Kingsnorth chimney for fun. The painted message was an SOS - the future of the planet is in real and immediate danger. Their acquittal must make the government change their policy on coal production." - Michael Wolkind, defending QC

Sam Tarran, responding to this decision, suggests that an acquittal of 6 people caught red-handed on such grounds makes something of a mockery of the rule of law as most people understand it. I am inclined to agree with him - It certainly sets a remarkable precedent.

UPDATE (11/09): Vindico (of Cynical Snippets) gets it:

Property rights, people? No? Ever head of them? How about I come round our house and key your car? That would be funny, wouldn't it. After all, you are killing babies with your Mondeo and causing global warming.

The jury ought to be strung up from lampposts, along with the crims they threw back into the sea, so we can point and throw rotten f***ing turnips at their dipshit faces.


Obnoxio The Clown said...

I don't think this was a good idea at all.

Kathz said...

Whether you like the verdict or not, it was one the jury were entitled to deliver after sitting through the whole case and hearing the evidence. I assume the defence was that it is permissible to break the law if the aim was to prevent a much more serious breach of law or major harm to others. There is precedent for such a verdict although the defence hasn't previously been used in environmental cases. (It has been used with occasional success by peace activists.) The question wouldn't, in English law, depend purely on the facts about environmental dangers but on the intention and beliefs of the protestors (the principle of mens rea - or guilty intent).

I can see why you have written this post but I worry that you're playing into the hands of those who would oppose the principle of jury trial.

Jury trial is much under attack this week - some of what was written about the jurors in the trial of the would-be terrorists and alleged would-be terrorists has led me to think through the principles and precedents by which the jury is protected. I thought for instance of the 1670 trial and acquittal of William Penn under the Conventicle Act. The government may not throw juries into prison for producing the "wrong" verdict but the vilification of juries - and judges - in the press, which is necessarily based on an inadequate knowledge of court proceedings and evidence, puts some cherished British freedoms in further danger.

QT said...

If this is the kind of travesty that jury trial leads to, perhaps we're better off without it.

Kathz said...

well, the state is quite keen on by-passing the courts for all kinds of offences. Fine if you trust the state. I'd rather trust a jury and accept the occasional perverse verdict.

QT said...

How about a judge?

TBRRob said...

a very strange decision.

Kathz said...

and who appoints the judges?

For me the question is one of liberty.

JuliaM said...

"If this is the kind of travesty that jury trial leads to, perhaps we're better off without it."

Oh, no! No, no, no...

Remember, jury trial also lead to this recently.

We can't applaud the one, and not the other. If there was 'failure' in both, it was that the state didn't make its case sufficiently well.

And that's how it should be.

QT said...

@juliam: I don't particularly applaud that verdict (the bottle bombers) either (nor do I particularly disapprove of it). It is clear that these men plotted to kill hundreds of innocent people - how likely to succeed their plot was seems to me a bit of a moot point.

I've long thought that jury trial is not the greatest of ideas, attached as some libertarians appear to be to it. It isn't just something I have made my mind up on today.

Selecting 12 people at random - people with no experience of law, no understanding of statistics or the weighing up of evidence - and asking them to deliver a verdict following a highly complex trial, well to me a lot of the time you might as well flip a coin.

This ridiculous verdict is just a particularly standout example of why jury trial is a bad idea.

I'm with Richard Dawkins.

JuliaM said...

"I don't particularly applaud that verdict (the bottle bombers) either"

Why? They didn't let them off - they simply felt that, on the balance of the evidence before them, some of the charges could not be proved.

There were plenty of people who had their doubts about that aspect of the whole plot.

And rather 12 people off the strert than one steeped-in-the-law, totally unrepresentative judge...

Sam Tarran said...

A lot of people seem to have dismissed this as "well, it's a flaw in the jury system, but what ya gonna do?"

They've missed the point. So far as I know, juries aren't allowed to let their personal political beliefs interfere with their judgements. They clearly did so here.

Trial by jury is the best system for deliverence of the law provided the jury know what they're required to do.

JuliaM said...

"They clearly did so here."

Thinking that is one thing. Proving it is another kettle of fish entirely...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Oh come off it.

The worrying thing about this is that there were enough brainwashed jurors; not the jury system itself.

As I explained on my blog, E.On are daft buggers for pressing criminal charges (it's lose-lose from their point of view, whether it's a guilty or not guilty verdict), they should have gone for civil damages for removing graffiti (would you want 'Gordon' painted on your chimney???) and for loss of earnings while the station was shut down.

QT said...

"The worrying thing about this is that there were enough brainwashed jurors; not the jury system itself."

Uh, isn't the former something of an indictment of the latter?

Am I missing something? said...


Of all the great miscarriages of justice that might make one question the fundamentals of the British legal system, why is the fact that some Green types didn't go down for painting six letters on the side of a chimney the straw that breaks the camel's back, as it were?

happy said...

the defence presented fell within Sec 5 of the 1971 Act. the jury listened to the evidence and were satisfied. how on earth do you raise any point of principle or start an attack on the jury system just because your own uninformed views led you to expect convictions. it was a clear and very comfortable acquittal on the evidence anything else would have been a great surprise