Extinction Rebellion Cambridge vows to return to streets as convictions are overturned
This month has already proved pivotal for Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists’ right to protest as convictions have been quashed and charges withdrawn against climate change campaigners that could mean “potentially hundreds if not thousands of the resulting convictions could be unsafe”.
On August 4, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped its opposition to the activists’ appeals against their convictions for obstructing roads in different demonstrations. This followed comments from Judge Mark Dennis QC, sitting with two magistrates, that prosecutors had not “grasped” the effect of a Supreme Court ruling in June that blocking roads can be a “lawful excuse” way to protest and asserting the “basic human rights point that has been there for a very long time”. The case has become known as the Ziegler ruling.
One of those whose charges were dropped was Ams Halls, an XR Cambridge activist, who was told she should not have been given a criminal record for peacefully obstructing a road during a 2019 demonstration.
Ams told the Cambridge Independent: “When I got into the court, the prosecution stood and told the judge they had no intention of resisting my appeal, on grounds of the Ziegler verdict. This felt amazing. It’s such a relief knowing I no longer have a conditional discharge and court costs to worry about, and it’s truly inspiring to see that similar things are happening to other XR protesters. My appeal being successful shows that the courts agreed that my actions were lawful and proportionate to the scale of the climate and ecological emergency, and it sets an exciting tone for the Impossible Rebellion, starting on August 23 in Trafalgar Square.”
Organised by Extinction Rebellion, the Impossible Rebellion starts at 10am on August 23 in Trafalgar Square, to rebut the suggestion that saving the planet from 1.5 degrees of warming since pre-industrial times is no longer within reach and to demand immediate legislation to eliminate fossil fuel use and support the post-carbon economy.
This week (on August 11) four more Extinction Rebellion activists had their convictions overturned at the Old Bailey. Andrew James, 70, Lou Ferns, 30, and Neil Traynor, 38, were previously found guilty of wilful obstruction of highways in central London.
Charles Hey, 33, had been found guilty of unlawful public assembly in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament.
But on August 11 Bill McGivern, for the prosecution, said the Crown would not resist the appeals made by the defendants.
Dr Scott-Warren said today (August 12): “When we arrived at court yesterday, to be tried for blocking the road in the Rebellion of One on May 1, we were told that the charges had been dropped due to insufficient evidence. It’s possible that this is true, but given that there was extensive BWV [body worn video] footage it seems more likely that the CPS were doubtful about the chances of conviction, thanks to the ongoing impact of DPP vs Ziegler et al.”
“I think the Rebellion of One, which was carefully planned for months in advance, was a model action. The idea was to provide a vehicle for expressing our deepest fears, fears which are all too often left unexplored, and to suggest that it is possible for individuals to stand up to the forces that are destroying the planet.
“In such an action, the roads are at once a symbolic target – a sign of business as usual continuing while the planet burns – and a practical target, given that road transport is one of our largest sources of emissions and other forms of air pollution. EVs and hybrids currently make up just 0.8 per cent of our road transport—the rest runs on 100 per cent fossil fuels.
“The fact that the courts are forcing the government to recognise that people have a legal right to pursue peaceful, focused, time-limited protests is wonderful, and should embolden other people to come forward in defence of life on our planet. I hope that this will throw a spanner in the works of the government’s current effort to crack down on protest, which will not survive scrutiny in the courts. The government will then be forced to take more stringent climate action, rather than to shoot the messenger.
“XR believes that the net-zero 2050 target is a death-sentence; the current climate collapse is happening at 1.2 degrees of warming, and 1.5 degrees – which we may hit by 2030 – will be far worse. We will continue to press for deep and rapid cuts to emissions, based on major economic and social reorganisation, powered by citizens’ assemblies.”
Extinction Rebellion has vowed to return to the streets following the successful appeals to overturn convictions by its activists.
The environmental campaign group says that 2,500 people have been prosecuted since April 2019 and that “potentially hundreds if not thousands of the resulting convictions could be unsafe”.
A spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion said: “The Ziegler ruling, Judge Dennis’s recent ruling and now the CPS’s decision not to challenge these latest appeals just confirm what we have always said, which is that we are exercising our legal, democratic right to protest peacefully.
“2,500 people have been prosecuted since April 2019. Potentially hundreds if not thousands of the resulting convictions could be unsafe.
“It is the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service to reassess all past and ongoing prosecutions in the light of the Ziegler ruling and to correct any miscarriages of justice.”
The spokeswoman said that Extinction Rebellion’s lawyers had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions requesting confirmation that this process is under way.
They are also asking for clarification that the CPS will be applying the Ziegler ruling in all future decisions to prosecute.
The group has posted online about an upcoming climate demonstration, which is due to last for two weeks, similar to its previous central London protests in September 2019.
Referring to a recent UN report calling for radical change with regard to climate policy, the spokesperson added: “On August 23, Extinction Rebellion will be back out on the streets to demand that change – and in the first instance, an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel investment.”
It is understood Extinction Rebellion will consult with police ahead of the protests.
In the hearing on Wednesday, the convictions of all four defendants were quashed. The CPS said it would contest another outstanding appeal, but an application would be made for the case to be transferred to another court.
Judge Mark Dennis QC said that further appeals would risk taking up “precious court time” and voiced his “considerable concern” about those on remand awaiting trial at the Central Criminal Court.
“It’s important for people to know that the right to protest is currently making a comeback,” concluded Jason.