A Fair Trial?

Allan Todd reports from Keswick on protests against the climate and ecological crisis and examines the increasingly repressive measures being taken against protesters.


On Saturday (26 Feb), Red Rebels from XR North Lakes marched through Keswick (Cumbria) to raise awareness of the ever-worsening Climate and Ecological Crises. Considerable interest was shown by the general public, and hundreds of leaflets were handed out:

Pic. 1: Keswick’s Market Square: “Code Red for Humanity”

One leaflet was headed:“Code Red for Humanity.”  This referenced what the UN Secretary-General had said back in August 2021, regarding the latest IPCC Climate Report and the mounting evidence of climate breakdown because of continuing fossil fuel usage. His warning then was that:

“This Report is ‘Code Red for Humanity’, and must sound the death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.

Yet just recently, when trying Insulate Britain activists for public nuisance, the judge instructed the defendants that they could NOT refer to climate breakdown, fuel poverty, or the need for better home insulation, as reasons for their actions.  By doing so, the jury was denied the right to hear ‘the whole truth’  which  has long been a vital part of the UK’s legal process and a fair trial. When one defendant nonetheless did so,he was sentenced to eight weeks in prison for contempt of court:

Given that Section 78 (3) of that Act says those charged with that offence can claim in defence that they had “a reasonable excuse” for their actions, one could suggest that the judge was showing contempt for both justice and democracy.

Pic. 2: Some of the many Insulate Britain activists charged with Public Nuisance

Usually, those carrying out peaceful though disruptive protest are charged with Obstruction of the Highway or Aggravated Trespass. But, since the Tories’draconian Police, Crime and Sentencing Act, prosecutions under the new Public Nuisance offence – maximum penalty 10 years in prison – are increasingly denying defendants the right to defend their actions on the basis of necessity and proportionality.

However, earlier this month, nine Just Stop Oil activists – prosecuted for Aggravated Trespass by blocking Esso’s Birmingham oil terminal -were allowed, by a different judge, to explain their reasons for peacefully breaking the law.  They said they had acted to prevent  the greater harm caused by fossil fuel companies knowingly exacerbating climate breakdown. One of the defendants stated that Exxon Mobil (owners of Esso), knew as early as 1979 that fossil fuels were going to cause a climate crisis – yet had consistently undermined actions to prevent effective climate actions:

Pic. 3: Just Stop Oil activists blocking Esso’s Birmingham Fuel Terminal

Before sentencing, that judge said:

”You are all good people….It’s unarguable that man-made global warming is real and we are facing a climate emergency….Your fears are…supported by the science…..You should feel proud that you care, have concern for the future.

Despite this evidence of a worsening climate emergency, the government has issued over one hundred licences for new oil and gas projects – as well as approving a new coalmine in Cumbria. Perhaps this explains why the government – and now the courts – are intent on removing yet more democratic rights, in order to make peaceful environmental protest even more difficult, and so protect the profits of the destructive fossil fuel companies.  George Monbiot said in a recent article:

“The protesters condemned as criminals today will be the heroes of tomorrow.

One heroic action to consider taking – which will not run the risk of arrest and an unfair trial – would be to sign up for ‘The Big One’: Extinction Rebellion’s protest in London, beginning on 21 April:

Pic. 4: ‘The Big One’: Extinction Rebellion’s 21 April protest, London

The plan is for at least 100,000 people to arrive outside Parliament with the simple demand for the government to end all new fossil fuel licences and funding. As XR says:

“Everyone is needed. Groups and movements must unite to survive, to transform together, address inequality and restore the living world.

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Allan Todd is Acting Organiser for Transform Politics Cumbria, a member of ACR’s Council and of Left Unity’s National Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary – and the forthcoming Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary (out May 2024)

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