Two dozen people risk prison for quoting previous Chief Justice outside Crown Court in Sussex
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As part of the growing public campaign Defend Our Juries, the group will hold up placards as reminders of the centuries-old system of an independent jury not bound by the directions of the judge.
The placards draw on the words on a plaque in the Old Bailey which marks a 1670 ruling by then Chief Justice Sir John Vaughan that enshrines the independence of juries.
One placard reads: “JURORS: YOU HAVE AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO ACQUIT A DEFENDANT ACCORDING TO YOUR CONSCIENCE”.
The group is aware that they may be arrested but argue that its action – far from being illegal – is actually a clear and just statement of the law.
The group, made up mainly of people from Hove and the surrounding area but from as far afield as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, are acting in solidarity with those who are being investigated for ‘attempting to pervert the course of justice’ for holding up similar placards outside courtrooms earlier this year.
The action outside the court is a response to the trial of four supporters from the campaign group Insulate Britain, whose trial is due to begin at Hove Crown Court on Monday.
As with other recent jury trials of people involved in nonviolent direct action, judges presiding over similar trials at Hove Crown Court have restricted defendants from speaking about their motivations for taking action, thus censoring the full story which a jury should be allowed to hear in order to come to a verdict.
Earlier this week, a judge banned the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Dr Gail Bradbrook, from explaining her motivations to a jury, and threatened to move to a trial without a jury if she tried.
Defend Our Juries holds that trial by jury is a foundation stone of the British justice system; a jury is redundant if it is not independent from the judge and his or her direction. A jury is unable to make independent decisions if it is not in full possession of information about the case, including the motivations of the defendants.
Measures are being taken to stop juries from reaching not guilty verdicts in trials with political overtones, including those related to fuel poverty, disarmament, and the climate crisis. In some cases, people have been sent to prison just for trying to explain their actions to the jury (for example by using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court). Judges have ruled that this constitutes contempt of court.
The measures have now been extended to outside courts, with people holding up placards reminding juries of their unqualified right to acquit now being investigated for ‘attempting to pervert the course of justice’ and ‘contempt of court’ and facing substantial sentences if convicted. This includes Trudi Warner, a 68-year-old retired social worker from East London who faces a possible prison sentence after a decision to prosecute her for holding a placard outside the March 2023 trial of Insulate Britain protestors, who were barred by the judge from mentioning their motivations and were imprisoned for doing so.
The action outside Hove Crown Court will take place this morning, the first day of the latest trial of Insulate Britain defendants on trial for public nuisance. The group will assemble peacefully outside the court and display placards upholding the British justice system – to remind the jurors of their right to acquit according to their conscience and irrespective of the judge’s direction.
One of the participants, Nicola Harries, 68, a solicitor and higher court advocate from Brighton, said: “Everyone appearing before a jury has a right to explain why they took the action they did. Juries must be able to hear the whole truth. The principles of natural justice, the right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law. My conscience will not let me stand by and watch this right be systematically eroded.”
Another participant, Liz McCormack, a 51-year-old community gardener, said: “A democratic country would not remove the rights to a fair trial by silencing the motives of defendants. I’m outraged that the legal system should threaten Trudi Warner for speaking the truth about juries who exist to independently judge right or wrong.”
The demonstrators have delivered a letter to the judge in Hove Crown Court explaining their action. The letter can be read here.