I believe that in exceptional circumstances, moral codes ought to supersede law. Indeed moral codes are what international law is based upon. The history of International Criminal law, arising from the Nuremberg trials, shows that it is not enough to say one was merely following orders, or the law.
I am pleading not guilty on the grounds that my actions were proportionate, justified and effective with respect to exercising my human rights to protest against the climate and ecological crimes that governments and corporations around the world have been complicit in.
Sir, I grew up in a town called Partizanske in Slovakia, a country famous for its natural beauty, wilderness and plentiful fresh water. My mother’s family lives in a village built around a small stream called Geradza. The soil around the lower part of the stream is extremely fertile and has always been crucial for the locals’ livelihood. When I visited last summer, the stream has completely dried up. My 84-year-old grandfather does not remember such a thing happening in his lifetime - on the contrary, the stream used to flood in spring, which hasn’t happened in at least a decade. My family and I can see the climate crisis with our own eyes. Our fruit trees are fruitless because of rapid weather changes. Our crops have trouble growing due to scorching August heat.
And all of this is a banality compared to the infernal suffering of the Australian people, the sinking towns of Indonesia, and the onslaught of the desert on the African sahel. This is unheard of. The science is clear. This is an emergency.
Sir, the principle of necessity in English law is bound to the threat of imminent harm to a human being, and that the threat of the climate crisis is not imminent enough. I would like to use the analogy of asbestos here - even though its deadly effects cannot be seen, they are in fact imminent, and are causing great harm. Such a threat has to be dealt with now in order to be averted, and therefore the principle of necessity is relevant here.
I have lived in London for nearly 8 years, studying, then working as a software developer for a British medical research organisation, as well as the BBC. When I heard about XR’s declaration in October 2018, the taking of the five bridges in London and the swarming of roads in November I felt invigorated. Finally a movement was developing that was sounding the alarm about the urgency and scale of what we are facing.
Recently I and many others worldwide, have come to the conclusion that a great crime is being carried out under the banner of our existing political and economic structures. In my view, the awareness of this crime justifies the actions, because of which I am here.
I was arrested four days before Polly Higgins died. Polly Higgins was a Barrister who gave up a lucrative career in order to campaign to get the crime of ecocide into international law, much like Rafal Lemkin who campaigned for and eventually succeeded in getting genocide recognised as a crime.
Ecocide was defined by Polly as “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems of a given territory ..to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished”
Just as the Armeninan massacres and the 2nd world war holocaust happened before they were regarded as crimes against humanity, I too believe that serious wrongs are occuring today. The science of global warming and biodiversity loss, as well as some of the possible outcomes have been apparent for some time. The fact that governments and corporations continue a business as usual approach, I believe should be classified as a criminal act. Your honour, recklessness can be defined in law as “not taking sufficient care in order to ensure that outcome did not occur” In Environmental Law this is known as the “precautionary principle”. At the very least , our government's actions are reckless. And as I'm sure you are aware, recklessness establishes guilt.
I therefore feel honoured to stand here before you and show my dissent to the system that perpetuates these crimes. Indeed, I believe that it is a moral virtue, a moral duty to dissent. And as a member of Extinction Rebellion I have declared open rebellion against a system that supports behaviour, that I believe should be classed as a crime against humanity.
And the morality of my plea does not end with the individual. A key component of Extinction Rebellion is that of global climate justice for people in the Global South whose populations are suffering from frequent climate catastrophes, having to rebuild their lives and being unable to represent themselves in our courts. Our consumerist lifestyle is largely the cause of their hardship. It is therefore our duty to act on their behalf.
Sir, I have never been arrested before. I decided to exercise my human right to protest in order to highlight wrongs that are being committed by our government and private corporations. That was a difficult decision but I felt, and still feel it was justified.
Sir, after decades of legal environmental protests, it has become clear conventional campaigning does not work. It is ignored by politicians, capitalists and others. They ignore our alarm bells, despite the backing of the entire scientific community. So what can we do? I believe the correct course of action is the one, which has resulted in this court appearance. Non-violent civil disobedience was proven to be the most effective way of bringing about political change, from the US civil rights and Indian independence movements, to the suffragettes.
In fact, even tactics of Extinction Rebellion have been found ‘lawful’ in UK courts before: Last year, Cambridge Magistrate’s Court has found Angela Ditchfield - an XR activist - not guilty after she spray-painted the headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council in protest against the CCC’s inaction on the climate crisis. The Court’s verdict included the admission that Ms. Ditchfield’s action had been “taken to protect property” which is “under threat from climate change”.
Sir, five days after the XR London protests Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate "emergency" and MPs approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency the same day. Would you not agree that this vindicates the actions as both proportionate and effective? This outcome been echoed by over 120 local authorities across the UK that have also declared a climate and ecological emergency every single one of which was a result of Extinction Rebellion local protests.
To sum up: firstly, the circumstances in which I carried out my action are exceptional due to the tangible threat of the 6th mass extinction. Therefore the action was proportionate.
Secondly, the crime of ecocide - while sadly not part of international law yet -has unquestionable moral gravitas, and therefore my action was justified.
Lastly, the actions of Extinction Rebellion have had direct measurable effects, as proven by declarations of a climate emergency by Parliament and local councils. Therefore my action was effective.
You are now placed in a position of moral difficulty, similar to myself: by enforcing the law you would become an accomplice in the greater crime I have described and would be ignoring your moral compass. As I've mentioned, history teaches us crimes against humanity are not conducted necessarily by consciously “evil” people, but by people doing their job and keeping their heads down or pursuing their careers. Sir, this is not the time to keep one’s head down.
Sir, I intend to continue my course of non-violent civil disobedience for as long as I have breath in my body, because I believe that it is the moral and correct course of action. As Martin Luther King said, “I stand here, I can do no other”, whereas you are left with a choice. Either accept your role as an accomplice in the greatest crime against humanity and bring the full weight of the law against me, or take a stand for the future of our species, and admit the Rebellion which I am a part of to be lawful and morally sound.