A high court judge has thrown out an attempt by the government’s most senior law officer to prosecute a woman for holding a placard on jury rights outside a climate trial.

Mr Justice Saini said there was no basis for a prosecution of Trudi Warner, 69, for criminal contempt for holding a placard outside the trial of climate activists that informed jurors of their right to acquit a defendant based on their conscience.

The solicitor general had argued that Warner, a retired social worker, had committed contempt by holding the sign that was read by potential jurors at the opening of the trial last April.

The judge said Warner had not harassed, impeded or even spoken to any of those entering inner London crown court last year. The sign referred to a 1670 case known as “Bushel’s case”, in which a jury refused to find defendants guilty despite a judge having instructed them to do so.

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Dorset residents show solidarity with defendant at Royal Court of Justice.

On Thursday April 18th at 8:30am a group of Dorset residents sat outside Bournemouth Crown Court holding what has become the most contentious sign in the UK legal system . They will join hundreds of others around England and Wales as part of the growing Defend Our Juries campaign.  

Their signs display the centuries-old principle of ‘jury equity’ – the right of all jurors in British courtrooms to acquit a defendant according to their conscience and irrespective of the directions of the judge. Famously, in 1984, a jury acquitted the civil servant, Clive Ponting, on this principle after he exposed government misinformation to the public and Parliament concerning the ‘Falklands War’

Trudi Warner to appear at High Court this week on Contempt of Court Charge

On 18th April the permission hearing for the Attorney General’s application to commit Trudi Warner, retired social worker, will be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice. The basis of the application? Trudi held up a sign outside a court displaying the well-established principle of jury equity. 

Imprisoned for telling the truth

Risk of arrest

By displaying these signs, the group, like Trudi and two young women who were arrested by the MET police last October, ran the risk of arrest. Their message to the Judiciary and Attorney general is clear, if you are going to prosecute Trudi Warner, you must prosecute us too. 

Collective action works

There are strong indications that united, collective action to defend the principle of jury equity is proving effective. Just days after the Solicitor General’s announcement to prosecute Warner, 252 people gathered outside 25 crown courts across England and Wales, holding similar signs in solidarity with Trudi Warner. None were arrested and there has been no indication of a police investigation since then. An investigation into people previously arrested for displaying posters with the same message has now been discontinued. In December last year, over 500 people gathered to display the same message at over 50 crown courts, again, none were arrested. In February this year, 300 signed a letter to the new Solicitor General saying “since you’re prosecuting Trudi Warner, you should prosecute us too”.

As Trudi Warner’s permission hearing is heard this week in the Royal Courts of Justice, hundreds of people are expected to defend the message of jury equity outside every crown court in England and Wales. 

The Defend our Juries campaign has gathered powerful support from eminent professors of law, such as Professor Richard Vogler and Professor John Spencer. In the words of Professor Vogler:

“George Orwell noticed the tendency of repressive law to degenerate into farce, when truth becomes a lie and common sense is heresy. This is worth remembering now that the solicitor general, Michael Tomlinson KC, has concluded that it is right to take action against … Trudi Warner, for holding up a sign outside a criminal court, simply proclaiming one of the fundamental principles of the common law: the right of a jury to decide a case according to its conscience.”

Mounting concern over jury trial

The demonstrations come amid mounting public concern that political trials are being turned into show trials, after a succession of jury acquittals, including the acquittal of the Colston 4 in January 2022, have embarrassed the Government and certain corporate interests. In the Colston case, Suella Braverman, who was Attorney General at the time, decided that the jury of Bristol people had got it wrong, and brought a successful appeal to the Court of Appeal, changing the law.

Measures to stop juries reaching not guilty verdicts

Measures being taken by courts in response include defendants being banned from explaining to the jury why they did what they did, even people who have taken peaceful direct action are now being sent to prison for up to 3 years. In some cases, people have been sent to prison just for trying to explain their actions to the jury for saying the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court. Defendants are banned from explaining the principle of ‘jury equity’ to the jury, even though it is a well established principle of law, which is set in marble at the original entrance to the Old Bailey. Defendants have been found guilty after a judge threatened jurors with criminal charges if they applied their conscience to the trial. Legal defences have been removed by the Court of Appeal, leaving people unable to properly explain their motivations for taking action to juries, and declaring evidence of the climate crisis ‘inadmissible’. 

Local residents take part 

Explaining why she was prepared to risk arrest for this legal principle local resident, Giovanna Lewis, 66, retiring local councillor and ”Grannie for the Future’ from Portland, Dorset, said:

“I’m doing this because it’s important that the legal system does not stop people from telling the whole truth in court, and does not stop jurors from making the decision they think is morally right when they have all the information. As thousands die each year in the UK from fuel poverty and around the world from climate change related events, it is more important than ever that rights which have been enshrined in law for hundreds of years are not abandoned.”

Annie Webster, 66, retired cook from Dorchester, also a ‘Grannie for the Future’, added:

“For me, I feel there is a moral responsibility to take part and to be here because, it seems that, particularly in the trial of climate activists, there needs to be a safeguard against potential state and judicial oppression.”

In conclusion, Elizabeth Elwick, 71, a grandmother and retired nurse from Bournemouth, had this to say;

“I cannot sit by whilst our legal rights are taken away from us by a government determined to silence ordinary people driven to take action to stop the destruction of our planet.”

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