Court ruling erodes climate activists’ ability to defend themselves – as the planet heats up

(The Guardian, 19 Mar 2024) Court of appeal’s removal of ‘consent’ defence means defendants on trial for criminal damage can no longer use it in England and Wales.

It took a matter of minutes in the court of appeal, where demonstrators were strangely absent, for the dial to shift once more on the rights of protest in England and Wales.

The decision taken on Monday by the court of appeal to, in effect, find in favour of the attorney general, the Conservative government’s premier legal officer, has removed a defence for climate protesters that had been available on the statute books since 1971.

Known as the “consent” defence, it allowed defendants on trial for criminal damage to argue that they honestly believed the owner of the property targeted would have consented if they had known of the damage and its circumstances.

In the last year climate protesters successfully used this defence in crown court jury trials. Juries, having heard the evidence, acquitted nine people who targeted the London HQ of HSBC bank, several individuals who daubed paint on the headquarters of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens, and individuals protesting for Palestine Action.

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The Guardian, 19 Mar 2024: Court ruling erodes climate activists’ ability to defend themselves – as the planet heats up