Court Statements Selection 7
These statements were written by XR rebels who took part in non-violent civil disobedience during 2019, 2020 and 2021 and were charged with a criminal offence. They were read aloud at their court hearings, almost always by the defendants themselves although during the Covid-19 pandemic some were read by a solicitor or by the court clerk. In legal terms they are statements of mitigation but the writers’ objective was primarily to explain to the court, in their own words, why they did what they did. They are individual expressions of the desperate urgency of the climate crisis.
The statements included below are anonymised and not in chronological order. They represent a small proportion of the total: if anyone whose statement is not included would be willing to share it, please send it to email@example.com.
I stand before you this morning because I chose to participate in a nonviolent mass civil disobedience action in October 2019. Using only my body, I helped to stop traffic near Lambeth bridge. My intermediate aim was to generate serious and sustained media discussion of climate change. My ultimate aim was to persuade the UK government to take rapid and proportionate action to halt global warming and repair biodiversity.
I was in my early 20s when I began to fully grasp the tragic dimensions of environmental degradation. I remember coming across a so-called ‘obituary’ for the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia. It was described back then as the largest, most complex living thing on earth, and apparently it was dying because of a number of everyday factors: development, mining, tourism, rising temperatures. I read about an activist, Maria MacDonald, fighting the impacts of dredging on the reef and began to weep in my kitchen. I felt as if a nightmare had descended upon the world from which no one could individually wake. In 2016, the SUN newspaper declared the Reef dead, due to coral bleaching, at the age of 25 million years.
For the next decade or so I started doing what I could to help alongside my studies (I am currently a doctoral student researching poetry). I joined various environmental groups, I donated money, I participated in litter-picks, I handed out leaflets, I canvassed with political parties, I dressed up as a penguin and did a choreographed dance with other penguins on the Southbank, I wrote to my MP, I wrote poems about the environment, I voted, I recycled, I reduced my carbon footprint, I started off-setting my emissions when I could not avoid flying, I planted trees. Yet global emissions continued to rise. Yet I did not see my government responding to the science in a rational manner.
When I heard about peaceful civil disobedience as a tool which might effect the sort of changes I thought were needed, I felt I had to try it, duty-bound to try it. As a consequence, I have been charged with willful obstruction of a public highway, without lawful authority or excuse. My case is that I did have lawful excuse, however, as I was exercising my right of conscience as it is defined under Article 9 of The Human Rights Act (1998).
I submit to the Court it has an opportunity to act with the force of moral clarity here. It has an opportunity to distinguish between peaceful and respectful law-breaking so that what is beautiful, healthy and beneficial might be conserved––and law-breaking for nefarious purposes, or because of negligence or ignorance.
I further submit to the Court the example of Conscientious Objection, which I contend falls within the remit of Article 9. I did not block traffic in order to gain rights, or have a bigoted law disposed of, I blocked traffic because I decided to exercise my lawful right to abstain from being a participant in a social compact I find at this moment in time to be immoral and destructive.
The lawful right to abstain goes back centuries, and, for me, it is a noble part of our legal tapestry. The United Kingdom recognised the right of individuals not to fight in the 18th century following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. The UK was also the first state to legislate for recognition of conscientious objection in 1916. I quote from Informed Choice: Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the UK (2007):
conscientious objection to military service arises when a serving or prospective member of the armed forces finds that their work cannot be done in good conscience. When the claim of conscience is sufficiently powerful for the person to seek to remove themselves from their work, then a conscientious objection can be said to exist.
As a member of this state, the United Kingdom, I have come to believe that my business-as-usual work as a tax-paying citizen, contributor to and user of the country’s infrastructure, its economy, cannot be carried on in good conscience.
One of the differences between a military conscientious objector and myself is that the former can keep away from the battlefield, where the perceived harm is being done. However, when it comes to global temperatures being pushed up by human activity, planetwide biodiversity loss, the battlefield, so to speak, is everywhere. I cannot simply remove myself from dynamics I see as deeply harmful. Living in London, I breathe illegal levels of air pollution; I sit on buses which exacerbate it. I wake up to a distinct lack of birdsong, registering the fact that many bird species in the UK have seen precipitous decline over the last few decades. I walk a countryside ominously stripped of much of its native wildlife. I struggle to relax and concentrate during heatwaves. The world’s seven hottest years on record have all occurred since 2014, with the 10 warmest taking place in the last 15 years. There have now been 44 consecutive years where global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average. I cannot escape this, none of us can.
When I joined Extinction Rebellion’s mass action, I sought symbolically as well as literally to remove myself from the flow, specifically, the traffic-flow––which is taking us, where? Just last month the chief executive of the Environmental Agency, Sir James Bevan, said that the climate crisis is hitting ‘worst case scenario’ levels. At the annual conference of the Association of British Insurers, Sir Bevan painted a picture of what this means:
Much higher sea levels will take out most of the world’s cities, displace millions, and make much of the rest of our land surface uninhabitable or unusable. Much more extreme weather will kill more people through drought, flooding, wildfires and heatwaves than most wars have. The net effects will collapse ecosystems, slash crop yields, take out the infrastructure that our civilisation depends on, and destroy the basis of the modern economy and modern society. If [this] sounds like science fiction let me tell you something you need to know. This is that over the last few years the reasonable worst case for several of the flood incidents the EA has responded to has actually happened.
A couple months after my arrest, the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres warned world leaders that, ‘We stand at a critical juncture in our collective efforts to limit dangerous global heating’. Unless we stay below 1.5 degrees centigrade of warming, we face ‘catastrophic disaster’. He declared: ‘we are knowingly destroying the very support systems keeping us alive’.
One might maintain that steps are being taken, and that there is no need to sit in the street and inconvenience one’s neighbors. I say plainly we are not doing what is required in order to avert––and I use the Secretary-General’s phrase again––‘catastrophic disaster’.
To take just one example. The UK Government has adopted a net-zero target for 2050. Yet, as the Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 report to Parliament pointed out, there is currently no coherent national policy package to deliver it. No coherent national policy package to deal with what is being called an existential threat by those at the highest levels. Lord Deben and Baroness Brown stated in their forward to the Committee’s report:
The Clean Growth Strategy, the UK’s plan for emissions reduction, provides a solid foundation for the action needed to meet [the 2050] net-zero target but policy ambition and implementation now fall well short of what is required. ... Government continues to be off track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets––on their own appraisal––and the policy gap has widened further this year as an increase in the projection of future emissions has outweighed the impact of new policies.
I believe we are heading for calamity if things remain more or less the same, like Guterres and many others. In fact, we are already in the midst of calamity if you look at the ecological side of things. Close to 70% of the Earth’s wildlife in the last 40 years has been wiped out. Some scientists are calling what is happening ‘biological annihilation’.
Given all of this, I say I am not guilty of acting without lawful excuse. I also say, very genuinely, my actions were born of love––for life, for people, for the astonishing, profound wonders of nature, and for my home, the British Isles.
Thank you for this opportunity to explain my actions.
I am pleading guilty to this offence because it is true that on 1st September last year I did sit in the road outside Parliament and refused to move when asked to do so by a police officer. I accept that I broke the law.
I want to explain why, so that you understand that my decision was thought through, based on scientific evidence of what is happening to the earth and our natural systems, and based on a sense of responsibility to do what I think is right.
I think we all know that the world is facing a climate and ecological emergency. I don’t think the court would dispute that. What I had to consider is what should a responsible person do to try to help avert that emergency?
I have been worried about global warming for many years. I campaigned to combat climate change for nearly 20 years by conventional means. I lobbied MPs, wrote letters, took part in demonstrations, changed my lifestyle to lower my carbon footprint as much as possible. But all that time, in spite of fine words from many politicians, our climate continued to get hotter, and our weather more extreme, with increasing floods, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires, leading to ever-increasing deaths and disruption. Often it was the poorest societies, who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis, which suffered the most.
We know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are the cause of global heating, have been rising since we started burning fossil fuels at the time of the industrial revolution. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are now at about 416 parts per million, with no sign of levelling off, let alone reducing. Scientists tell us the safe level is no more than 350 parts per million. How can we let this rise continue?
More recently I have realised that human beings are also threatening the whole natural world, of which we are a part, and on which we depend. Here is what David Attenborough said in an address to the UN a few weeks ago: “This is only the beginning of this crisis. If we continue on our present path we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature, ocean food chains. Climate change is the greatest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.”
So I am asking you to consider those words, which express the reality and urgency of our situation. Seen in that light, what should I do? What would be a responsible, rational and proportionate response?
We need extremely radical and urgent action, but our government has not responded appropriately. Compare the unprecedented government action during the Covid crisis. Yet the climate crisis is far more serious. There is no vaccine for climate change. Think about David Attenborough’s words: “Climate change is the greatest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.” What’s an appropriate response to that?
I’m also asking you to think about how the actions of XR last September will be judged in 10 years time, when my grandchildren will be adults, looking back to 2020. By then people will know if our world is on course to averting some of the worst consequences of the climate emergency, or if (as David Attenborough has warned will happen unless we act swiftly) the collapse of everything that gives us our security is upon us.
I want to be a good ancestor, to do what I can to leave a world that is fit for our children and grandchildren and future generations. As one person I do not have a lot of power or influence, but knowing what I know, if I do not take what action I can, working with others to keep this issue in the public eye and on the government’s agenda, I will be complicit in the coming catastrophe. The climate and ecological crisis is not like any other political or social issue of our time. If we get this wrong we will have failed, and put all that human civilisation has achieved over millennia in extreme peril. We will have failed to look after our beautiful planet, which is our only home. It will not matter what humanity’s other achievements may be. That is why I felt compelled to break the law last September.
I plead not guilty to the alleged offence on the grounds that the court will rely on precedent and a narrow legal definition of the alleged offence. When will this court pay attention to what is happening right now to people throughout the world who are dieing, who are starving, who are unwilling refugees, directly as a result of the failure of the leaders of the rich nations whose carbon generation is leading directly to that suffering.
I have tried contacting my MP, the Prime Minister, the Minister in charge. I have signed petitions, taken part in marches, tried to live a decent life. None of these activities have had the slightest impact.
Like 71% of the UK population, the court will accept that the climate and ecological emergency is real, imminent, and caused by human activity. The UK government is almost achieving 4 of the 20 targets it set itself to get to net zero by 2050. The recent promise to achieve a 78% carbon reduction by 2035 is, similarly, just words.
The court will not ask, what must a person do in the face of disaster? What is the moral imperative here? How must each of us strive to be fully human? Why is it OK to commit an offence to preserve the life and well being of a nearby person at risk, but not to do the same for someone in the wider world who will certainly die?
My grand-daughter asked me, two years ago, when she was 8, “how did you let the world get this way, Nanna?’ I had no answer. How did we let this happen?
How can the Courts be on the side of extinction whilst claiming that they are ”only following the law?’ When the law is so far removed from justice, we each must choose to act according to our conscience, our values and our ethics.
If the Court finds that I am guilty, it is complicit in the continuing inaction of our political leaders, and so complicit in the extinction of many living beings, the greater suffering of so many people, and it denies me the right to protest against the harm which continues to expand.
I exercised the right allowed me by s10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act. My protest was proportionate to the scale of the harm already wrought on the world, which is getting worse…which will soon be beyond mitigation….with every day of inadequate response.
I plead not guilty.
I would like to explain why I lay down in the road in London on 7 October 2019.
I did not make the decision to do this lightly. I am 54 and I have always been a law-abiding member of society. I have worked all my adult life, first as a journalist for national magazines and newspapers, and more recently as the manager of a charity. I am also the mother of two children.
Up until recently I had faith in the power of ordinary channels of debate to share scientific knowledge about the climate emergency and the threat of mass extinction. I had confidence that as a society we could then take action to avert total disaster. For instance, I have been a member of the Green Party, and as a journalist I have written articles about the need to protect wildlife. I have taken part in legal demonstrations and donated to wildlife charities.
However, I have become increasingly frustrated. The scientific consensus is clearly telling us that not nearly enough is being done. The climate is changing rapidly, and the beauty and richness of this wonderful planet is under threat. More and more precious wild space is being destroyed. Over the last 40 years, 76% of the UK’s butterfly species have declined; and a third of wild British bees have declined. Since the year I was born, we have lost over 40 million breeding birds in this country. And we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows since the 1930s.
We cannot wait any longer. Yet government refuses to act. New and planned developments like HS2 and Sizewell C threaten irreplaceable ancient woodlands and vital nature reserves. The UK is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. One in seven of our native species face extinction. It seems that we are sleepwalking into a situation where my children’s children may never hear skylarks or turtle doves, or see hedgehogs, cornflowers or poppies in the wild.
I was very impressed by the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the way that they injected real urgency into this issue. When I first visited their protests in April 2019 I was particularly struck by their commitment to non-violence, which is very important to me personally. I then visited my local group’s meetings and met teachers, scientists, carers, gardeners, all united in a determined commitment to save our beautiful planet before it is too late. I have participated in various law-abiding activities with them, including planting trees.
However, I could see that XR’s greatest impact has been in organising mass protests. I could see that Parliament and the public were being influenced by these actions and were becoming ready to debate this issue with more understanding of what is at stake. After the April rebellion, Parliament declared a climate emergency* and public opinion changed to support the idea that much more needed to be done to tackle this crisis.*
So I decided that it was important for me to contribute, and to support the rebellion more actively. I decided to block a road with others on the first day of the October 2019 protests, in Trafalgar Square. This is a traditional site of protest, the centre of many demonstrations for successful movements in the past, including those for women’s suffrage. I understood that by doing this I could make my own position clear and also encourage others to gather publicly, share ideas and draw attention to this urgent cause.
While each of us can have very little impact personally on the situation that we are facing globally, I feel that it is morally imperative for each of us to do what we can. My action felt to me to be reasonable. I did this, literally, to rebel against extinction. I acted out of necessity in this urgent situation in which it will soon be too late to restore the complex and finely balanced ecosystems on which we depend.
I do regret the inconvenience I caused on the day, but not as much as I regret the violence that humans are doing to the world around us. While my small act may be seen as criminal, the much bigger crime we are all committing is to continue to harm our planet and the beautiful, varied, glorious wildlife with whom we share this land, our home.
I just want to say very briefly why I went to Millbank and sat in the road that day.
As is well known, the disastrous effects of climate change are happening already around the world. There are floods in some places, appalling drought in others, as previously reliable patterns of weather are turned upside down. The permafrost of the Arctic is burning, the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica and glaciers worldwide are melting, and the seas are rising.
Indeed the UK Parliament recognised this, and on the first of May 2019 it formally declared that we are living through a Climate Emergency. The UK and all other governments have a solemn and desperate duty to defend their citizens and all of humanity against this disaster.
Yet since the declaration of the emergency, our Government has done nothing to mitigate the threat. It continues to subsidise fossil fuels in this country by over 15 billion pounds a year, more than three times as much as is spent on renewable energies. Exploitation of gas reserves by fracking continues to be supported, and both Heathrow and City of London airports are being allowed to expand their carbon-creating activities. Boris Johnson and his government talk glibly and deceitfully of the need for green investment and development, and yet their actual actions are the opposite: they cancelled the Green Homes scheme, reduced the subsidy support for electric cars and are even backing the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Just before our demonstration I read that over 1,500 scientists, led by Dr Charlie Gardner, a conservation scientist and lecturer at Kent University, had signed a declaration of support for non-violent direct action against government inaction on climate change and the ecological emergency. They said: ‘We note that the scientific community has already tried conventional means to draw attention to the crisis. We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non violent protest and direct action’.
I fully support this view, and having exhausted all other means of opposing the crisis, am now supporting Extinction Rebellion as they resist the Government’s grossly deceitful and harmful policies, in any non-violent and peaceful way that I can.
I also have a quite specific and very personal reason for doing what I did. I have been interested since childhood in Astronomy, and am a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. For 25 years until my recent retirement I edited an astronomical journal. So I have a reasonable scientific understanding of what is happening on this planet, and above all, I know that it is quite possible, indeed it is fairly probable, that this could be the only planet in the entire universe that has produced intelligent life. In fact it may even be the only place in what generally appears to be a rather bleak and lonely universe, that has any life on it at all. This whole wonderful, glorious vibrant world may be the only one, ever, anywhere....
And with our cavalier overconsumption and destruction of its resources, we’re killing it! I just cannot stand by any longer and allow this to continue. If a house is burning, it is not a criminal act to break a window to rescue the people inside. In an emergency, the normal rules no longer apply, as we have seen powerfully for the past year with the Covid pandemic. Even Parliament has agreed that with the climate we have an emergency, and that it is the greatest and most critical emergency the world has ever known. Governments – our government are doing nothing about it: they are talking and promising, but they’re doing nothing.... So it is down to us we ourselves must act.
We hear a lot these days about our right to protest, and by actively defying the Section 14 order for which I was originally arrested, I was also defending this right. As the climate crisis worsens and deepens, protesting is not just our right.... It is our essential and solemn duty.
On 15 October 2019 I found myself declining a request to move out of the road from a police officer, and eventually being arrested for obstruction. I was blocking Londoners from going about their daily lives for over an hour, but felt that it was a necessary act in order to get a message over that I have failed to get taken up in any other way. How did it come to this? That a 58-year old project manager with a young family and no previous criminal record chose to do this?
It goes back to 1986 when I bought a book “Turning the Tide – exploring the options for life on earth” which contains the following –
“It is clear to us that we cannot carry on as we have done. To do that would be to embrace our own extinction. We have to take further the alternatives, old and new, which do exist”
Since my childhood, I have watched as our environment has changed dramatically – the temperature has changed such that the past five years have been the hottest five on record for the second year running, and once-in-a-hundred-year floods now happen twice a year. That’s alongside a horrific deterioration in our fauna - since 1970 insects have reduced by 75%, wild mammals by 60%, house sparrows by up to 95% and tuna by 97%.
Over the years, I altered my lifestyle, and hoped that others would observe and do the same. I joined Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in the mid-1990s, at the same time I stopped flying (apart from a handful of occasions), switched to wind-powered electricity in 1997, bought a Toyota Prius in 2003, installed solar-powered water heating in 2006, bought a zero-emission electric Nissan Leaf in 2019, reduced meat and fish consumption to zero and consumer goods overall.
Throughout that period I also visited my local MP, wrote to politicians and the Prime Minister, who all gave me the same answer – trust us, we have a plan.
I became aware of Extinction Rebellion in February 2019, and went through the transition from writing letters and taking my own individual actions to reduce CO2 emissions, to taking part in the XR direct actions.
On 15th October I joined several other protesters in standing in Horseferry Road. I regret the inconvenience that we caused to those caught in the traffic on that day. However I do not regret being arrested for my action. I do appreciate that I have the benefit of trusting the police and court system to treat me fairly in this.
I plead not guilty to this on the basis of necessity, since the evidence is that the Climate and Ecological Emergency is happening right now. Glaciers and Arctic ice are melting faster than ever.
My rationale for this is as follows – as Lord Craighead said in “It is the first responsibility of government in a democratic society to protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens”
Our current government has failed, and continues to fail, in this duty. The changes that are needed to address the climate end ecological emergency are much greater, and are needed much faster, than are being planned- even with their latest round of promises last month.
The Covid-19 outbreak has vividly illustrated the story of the frog in hot water. The frog who is dropped into a pot of boiling water will quickly react to the problem and hop out to save itself. That’s what happened with the Covid19 lock-downs and quarantines etc. However a frog who is put in cool water, which is then imperceptibly warmed until it boils, will stay there and die. That is what has been happening with climate change.
Governments across the world are now tickling that frog, but are unwilling to give it the sharp push needed to get it moving fast enough to save itself. They are gambling with the future of humanity and our planet in such a way that Covid-19 will seem like a drop in the ocean. Who can say when the time is too late?
Against all this background, I have seen Extinction Rebellion as the best way to retrieve the situation. It is clear that we have now left things too late to avoid significant damage to our environment, so we are now left with making the best of the bad situation our government has allowed us to get to.
It is said that American Indians, when making a significant decision, consider what the impact would be on their successors 7 generations hence. It is clear that our government is not taking anyone or anything into consideration beyond the next election.
It’s on that basis that I am prepared for this moment – so that I can look my children, family and friends in the eye and say that I did this as the best shock–tactic way I could find to demonstrate my concern over the climate change that is about to hit us.
I consider myself to be on trial in two courts – one in the present, here, today; the other in 20 or 30 years when my children and others of their generation and beyond ask what I did to draw attention to the problems that they will be facing by then.
If I am found guilty here today, I will take solace from the thought that I will receive a more favourable verdict from my successors.
Background and summary
Not disputing presence at the scene
Participating in a peaceful protest
Prosecution's case is that conditions imposed were lawfully imposed under the Public Order Act and that I knowingly failed to comply with the conditions.
But the Prosecution needs to prove that:
- I knew the terms and nature of the conditions
- The conditions were lawful; and
- My actions were not justified under the defence of necessity
- I can’t say whether the conditions were lawfully imposed, though I understand they have been challenged.
- I can’t say for sure that I knew of the specific terms and nature of the conditions, but I acknowledge that the arresting officer warned me that if I didn’t move to the grassy area on Parliament Square I would be arrested. I said that moving to the grassy area would mean my protest was less effective. Then I was arrested.
- But I can say with 100% clarity that my actions on that day were necessary – absolutely necessary –to prevent a greater harm. And it was absolutely necessary that my protest be as effective as possible.
The harm I am seeking to prevent
- The harm is real; it is happening now; and it is getting worse
- I don’t propose to labour this; I’m taking it that climate change, rising global temperature, and its impact on livelihoods and loss of life is established and understood by the court. So, briefly, I have submitted two documents:
- The first is the Sixth Carbon Budget produced in February 2021 by the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee.
- Rising global temperature, caused by human activity, is an established reality. The CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget reports the established scientific fact that the earth’s temperature today is 1.2 degrees C above preindustrial levels. This will rise to 1.5 degrees by 2030 and 2 degrees by 2050 even if the CCC’s recommendations are followed.
- The CCC Sixth Carbon Budget – pages 377-378 – also sets out the likely impact of temperature rises of 1.5, 2, 3, 4 and more degrees. These are: at 2 degrees extreme weather events, detrimental impacts on availability of food and water, doubling of impact of flooding and irreversible loss of coral reefs and 8-18% of plants and animals to come under extreme pressure or extinction; and, at 4 degrees, too hot to work outside in many regions, large scale crop failures, many freshwater and land animals face extinction, large scale migration and ‘difficult to predict’ geopolitical consequences.
- The second is a report produced by Tearfund, Christian Aid and CAFOD, aid agencies working in the most marginal parts of the world. This is one of many reports by these and many other agencies. Effectively reports from the frontline. And we do not need to look further than page 1:
‘Climate change is already pushing poor and marginalised communities further into poverty…’
These agencies are seeing their work undone by rising temperatures, leading to loss of livelihoods and loss of life
- And finally I should say, I have worked for over 20 years in Africa, in the energy industry, first in oil and gas fired electricity generation plants, and then in renewable energy. I have seen first-hand the changes to climate and the impact it has on the poorest communities.
- The impact of unabated climate change is unimaginable: mass extinction, loss of hundreds of millions of lives, maybe more. This is established scientific consensus. It is not seriously in doubt.
- The tools to avert the worst impacts are in the hands of the UK Government. And yet they are failing to act. I submitted a third document: the CCC’s June 2020 Progress Report to Parliament. I direct you to page 13 of the which says
‘this was not the year of policy progress that the Committee called for’.
- Were it to update the report, today (a year on), there would be precious little new to add. The tools are in our government’s hands, but government is failing to act.
- Which brings me to my actions on 1 September.
- I have been a Christian for 35 years, and I am compelled by the command of Jesus to love my neighbour, a command which he makes clear is to help the one in need
- I’d like to ask you: what action would be appropriate for me to take? What would be proportionate? What might be effective?
- Perhaps write to my MP, lobby parliament, march, sign a petition – all of which I’ve done – and none has succeeded – they have been ignored
- I did what I did on that day to protect the lives and livelihoods of others
- I have repeatedly tried all other ways at my disposal to effect change, but to no avail.
- I did no more than was necessary for the purpose (in fact what I did is arguably still too little)
- For it to be effective, it was necessary that I was in the road, not on the grass.
- The disruption caused by my action was minor. (Should Parliament Square be closed to traffic for a whole year the disruption would be minor, insignificant even to the disruption today to the lives of those I am seeking to protect.).
- I submit that my actions meet the tests for applicability of a defence of necessity (set out in R v Martin): that there is a threat of death or serious injury to (many) people; that that is a reasonable belief (in fact it is an established, widely understood fact); and that my action was a reasonable and proportionate response.
- The defence of necessity does not require that I know personally the people affected, nor that they be geographically proximate to me, nor that they can be identified individually. (Though I do in fact have experience personally and of supporting others for many years working with communities, whose livelihoods and lives are being affected.) And there is no requirement that the dangers be absolutely immediate. (Though this is happening now, and it is only the beginning.)
- Nor does it require that the action on this occasion be effective in preventing the harm, though it is reasonable to believe that my action would be effective. Similar actions have been effective – in the black civil rights movement in the US, the women’s suffrage movement in this country, and more recently in prompting the government to declare a climate emergency two years ago.
- And finally, my actions were not taken at random, but were as close to the houses of parliament as I could get, the very place in which a Bill to abate the worst impacts of climate change was introduced to the house of commons, on that very day
- I accordingly submit – in light of all of the above – the imminence and severity of the threat, the failure of government to act, the options open to me to act – that my actions were necessary, reasonable and proportionate, and accordingly that I am not guilty of the charge alleged.
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.