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Latest 18 April 2024

The case against Trudi Warner puts justice on trial

By Jennine Walker

Why is the solicitor general attacking our fundamental rights? The reasons are both inside and outside the courtroom.

Sometimes Trudi Warner wonders if she will wake up from a dream and find she really has committed some terrible crime that would merit two years in jail. But she has done nothing wrong.

In March last year, Trudi stood outside Inner London Crown Court holding a placard which said “Jurors: You have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience.” The judge ordered this 68-year-old retired social worker to be arrested and to appear at the Old Bailey for “attempting to influence the jury”. The solicitor general started proceedings against Trudi in September, and she will appear in court today so that a judge can decide whether they will go ahead to a full hearing. If she is found in contempt of court she could be sent to prison for two years.

Jurors must reach their verdicts based on the evidence they hear in court, but they also have the power to decide cases according to what they think is right. This is the fundamental principle of our common law that Trudi’s placard declares, a principle which dates back to the 17th century. Juries exist to keep the power of the state in check. Twelve citizens, selected at random, will have a collective experience of life far greater and more diverse than any individual. Juries must follow the directions of a judge and respect the law, but – as Lord Devlin said in 1991 – there may be certain cases when “their respect for the law is overridden by the conviction that to punish would be unjust”. When the law is too far from justice, juries can decide that justice should prevail. This is a vital safeguard in our democracy.

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The solicitor general – a conservative minister who advises the government on the law – is attacking this crucial principle and trying to put Trudi behind bars because of what was happening in that hearing at the Inner London Crown Court, and because of a much, much wider story about our changing world.

Trudi was standing outside a courtroom where people were on trial for causing a public nuisance by sitting in a road to protest at the government’s failure to tackle the climate crisis. They were demanding that the government take urgent action to insulate homes and reduce carbon emissions. But the judge wouldn’t let them tell the jury why they were protesting, banning them from even mentioning the words “climate change” or “fuel poverty”.

In 2019, parliament declared that the UK is facing an environmental and climate emergency, recognising the “devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health and through flooding and wildfire damage”. Yet despite the extreme heatwaves, floods and fires we have seen since then, the government is falling behind its own legally-binding plan to hit net zero. Instead they’ve been handing out new licenses in the North Sea and passing new laws to silence people, like Trudi, who peacefully protest.

The solicitor general’s case against Trudi is chilling evidence of how far removed this government is from truth and justice. But it also shows the power we have when we come together. Inspired by Trudi’s action, hundreds of people have already stood outside other courts holding the same sign. In support and solidarity, they have written to the solicitor general saying he should bring contempt proceedings against them too. Whatever happens in Trudi’s case, we will continue to protest, peacefully, calling on the government to do more to tackle the climate emergency. At Good Law Project, we are proud to stand with Trudi.

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