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We’re challenging the silencing of protesters

We’re supporting action to defend the rights of protesters and the essential freedoms that hold up our fragile democracy.

Climate change is one of the biggest existential threats we face, and citizens are exercising their right to peacefully protest against the Government inaction that is contributing towards it. 

Yet climate change protesters are receiving increasingly harsh treatments from the police, Government and judicial system, including more convictions, and prison sentences for minor breaches of court rules. 

Inner London Crown Court has been ordering climate protesters not to refer to climate change and fuel poverty when they speak about their rationale for protesting in front of a jury. A number of protestors, who have spoken out and said why they were protesting, have been found to be in contempt of court and given a custodial sentence of several weeks. This is an extraordinary approach being taken by the Court. We think it is draconian and wrong.

Amy Pritchard and Giovanna Lewis were on trial for causing a public nuisance, after sitting in the road to block traffic between Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street in Central London, on 25 October 2021.  Jurors failed to agree a verdict on their trial, but the protesters were found in breach of a court order preventing them from referring to climate change and fuel poverty in evidence. They were given seven week prison sentences.

Good Law Project is supporting these two individuals to appeal their findings of contempt of court, because we are deeply concerned about the silencing of climate change protesters in this way. These are the latest in a series of similar cases working their way through the courts. Protestors should be able to explain the reasons for their actions to the jury and not be criminalised and sent to prison for doing so. 

Throughout history, protests have been a driving force behind some of the most significant and positive shifts forward in social progress – from abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote and achieving marriage equality. But the right to peaceful protest has been suppressed recently, with climate change protesting being at the centre of much of the debate. 

The introduction of the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill last year brought new authoritarian measures to crack down on the freedoms of protesters and silence opposition. Good Law Project commissioned legal advice on these measures during the debating of this Bill, and the advice revealed what we feared – that the Secretary of State has the power to effectively prohibit “entire classes or types of protests” and to set a low bar for what constitutes ‘significant disruption’ resulting from protest.

The directions given by the Inner London Crown Court in these cases are the latest in a series of repressive measures that limit protest rights. Concerned citizens could be deterred from speaking up about the devastating impact of climate change by the threat of prosecution and imprisonment. 

Help us defend the rights of protesters and the essential freedoms that hold up our fragile democracy. 

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