Pleading guilty or not guilty

Last updated: 24/06/2021

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. 

We recommend you read the resources available to you on this website before making a decision. It can also be incredibly useful to speak to a protest experienced solicitor about your case before making any decision about how to plead. For this reason we have been providing funded initial legal advice to XR charged defendants. For more information of the financial support models available, please see here. This is funded through money raised on the XR CrowdJustice crowdfunder.

 

Pleading guilty

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.

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.

5. If you are certain that you would like to plead guilty, you might be able to request a caution from the police instead. This has recently been granted for some XR defendants who do not have a previous conviction and weren’t offered a caution at the police station, possibly as a way to reduce the backlog of court cases due to the covid pandemic. If you request a caution your case will be dealt with outside of court, you will not attend a first hearing and therefore not have the opportunity to read a mitigation statement in court. If you want more information on how to request a caution please email xr-legal@riseup.net

Pleading not guilty

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. Some 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 around 2000 people since April 2019, many people feel that they should exercise their right to make the state prove its case against them, and not make their life easy by pleading guilty.

4. Challenging your arrest. Your Access to Justice solicitor will advise you if you have a technical challenge that might result in a not guilty verdict. Unfortunately, widespread police use of body-worn video cameras can often make this difficult.

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), so you can plead not guilty and then change your mind. It is very hard to change the other way.

5. Your case may collapse. Although it is a small number, some XR cases have been dropped, due to lack of evidence or mistakes in case presentation. 

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