Pleading guilty or not guilty

Last updated: 04/06/2020

This decision obviously shapes the direction of your court case. It is an individual judgement and there is no right or wrong, because everyone’s personal circumstances are different. Whatever you decide, you have already done a tremendous amount for the struggle to prevent climate chaos. 

It is extremely important that you speak to a protest experienced solicitor before making any decision about how to plead. Please contact legalfinancialsupport@riseup.net in order to receive free initial legal advice from one of the protest experienced solicitors already representing XR cases. This is funded through money raised on the XR CrowdJustice crowdfunder.

The below information was written pre-Covid 19. Please refer to https://informeddissent.info/courtsandcorona for up to date information regarding hearings and trials. It is important to know that you should not feel pressured into pleading guilty to avoid travelling to a court; there are other options, so please make sure you speak to XR Legal Support and a protest experienced solicitor before making any decision about how to plead.

If you decide to plead guilty you can expect to attend court once – this is your plea hearing, sometimes referred to as a first hearing. It is not a trial, but most people have been able to read a short statement to explain their motivation (a statement in mitigation). You will receive your sentence at the plea hearing and that will be the end of your case. You will have a criminal record, and you can read more about that in the XR Legal Briefing:

If you decide to plead not guilty, you will do so at your plea hearing and the court will then set a date for your trial. It is important to take ‘dates to avoid’ to your plea hearing – these can include booked holidays, hospital appointments, perhaps school holidays if you are a primary carer. 

There is a flowchart showing the court process here:

https://greenandblackcross.org/guides/the-post-charge-legal-process/2-the-prosecution-process/

and other guides here:

https://greenandblackcross.org/guides/supporting-people-when-going-to-court/

This guide is an attempt to set out some of the factors that may influence your decision.  Here are some possible reasons for pleading not guilty:

1. Wrongdoing. Many people feel strongly that, as they have done nothing wrong – in fact the opposite – they will not plead guilty, even though they know they will almost certainly be found guilty at trial.

2. Statement. A trial may provide up to three opportunities to make a statement about the climate crisis. People feel that this opportunity to make the case in court should not be missed.

3. Impact on court business. As the police and CPS have taken the ridiculous decision to charge more than 600 people from the October rebellion with Obstructing the Highway, despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, many people feel that everyone should exercise their right to make the state prove its case against them, and not make their life easy by pleading guilty.

4. Changing your plea. It is easy to change from not guilty to guilty at any stage (although the benefit in terms of court costs savings may reduce as you get close to the trial date) but very hard to change the other way.

5. Your case may collapse. Some XR cases have been dropped, due to lack of evidence or mistakes in case presentation. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, solicitors have made strenuous efforts to have all the Obstruction cases arising from the October rebellion  discontinued, but if you have pleaded guilty your conviction will stand even if the prosecutions are dropped.

If pleading not guilty then look at the XR Legal Strategy as a potential resource.

Here are some possible reasons for pleading guilty:

1. Your case will be concluded quickly, almost always at your first hearing. If you choose not to, you don’t have to attend court at all. In all likelihood you will get a conditional discharge. 

2. As magistrates’ courts do not make recordings or verbatim records you may feel that the impact of a trial might not justify the effort and time spent.

3. It’s considerably cheaper, both in terms of solicitor’s fees and court costs see ‘A defendant’s guide to court finances’ https://informeddissent.info/defendantguidescourtfinances .

4. You will be able to say why you did what you did (make a statement in mitigation - ask if the judge does not invite you to) which can be a brief account on the climate crisis and your reasons for taking action as well as a statement of your finances.

It’s a really hard decision, and a personal one. There is no right or wrong, so you must do what is best for you in your circumstances. But we do urge you to take up the offer of free initial legal advice (legalfinancialsupport@riseup.net) before taking the decision.

This is a collaborative guide so please email any suggested amendments to xr-legal@riseup.net

XR – Legal Support