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Jurors have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience

Juries are widely accepted to be the safeguard we all have against the tyrannical abuse of power by politicians, ministers and those in positions of authority in our courts.

But following a pattern of jury acquittals of those exposing Government dishonesty and corporate greed through direct action, Judges in UK courtrooms are denying both defendants and jurors their rights by restricting what defendants can say in their trials and by limiting what jurors are allowed to hear. People have been sent to prison just for using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court and banned from explaining their motivations to the jury.

“What if protestors—while breaking the law and going to trial—looked across the room for support: to the jury? This oldest of democratic institutions wields the unchecked power to acquit, to set aside and unmake laws, and to ultimately render oil routes unprotectable. Juries have the power to sow anarchy far and wide. To be sure, the risks of this mode of activism are high and success is uncertain. The strategy known as jury nullification should be one of last resort. Unfortunately, the climate movement is running out of better options.”

Boston Review: A Climate Strategy of Last Resort »

We are members of the public who are upholding the law to ensure that everyone is informed that when on a jury you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience. This right has been enshrined in British Law for centuries.

But how can a jury apply their conscience to the evidence if they’re prevented from hearing why a defendant did what they did? And how can they exercise a right if they don’t know they’ve got it?

What does the right to a fair trial mean if you can’t speak and explain why you did what you did?Tim Crosland, Former Government Lawyer
Why is the British Government undermining the jury’s fundamental right to curb executive abuse of power? Frightened of truth?Melinda Janki, Guyana-based lawyer, and winner of the Commonwealth Rule of Law prize, 2023
The right of a jury to acquit despite a direction from the judge that there is no defence …must be defended unconditionally, and the present attacks on it would fatally damage trial by jury.Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister
It’s a serious matter indeed if a jury feels unable to make decisions according to their conscience … [or] defendants are prevented from telling the whole truth in court. Both rights must be defended.Revd Dr Sue Parfitt, priest and retired psychotherapist
I have disregarded the order … not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscienceM.K. Gandhi

There is a constitutional crisis taking place in our courts.

As the Government ramps up its programme of repression against all those who expose its dishonesty and corporate corruption, trials of those taking nonviolent direct action are increasingly taking place in the Crown Court before a jury. The randomly selected members of the public who make up our juries are proving to be the state’s Achilles Heel.

In the last few years, juries have acquitted (among others) those who have:

i) toppled the statue of the slave-trader, Edward Colston, into Bristol Harbour;
ii) defaced Shell’s HQ in response to Shell’s lies and crimes;
iii) blocked the M4 motorway to demand the government insulate social housing during an energy crisis;
iv) targeted Elbit, who manufacture the drones used to kill Palestinians;
v) intervened to prevent violent deportations to Jamaica.

Image of a plaque reading: 'Near this site William Penn and William Mead were tried in 1670 for preaching to an unlawful assembly in Grace Church Street. This tablet commemorates the courage and endurance of the jury Thos Vere, Edward Bushell and ten others who refused to give a verdict against them although locked up without food for two nights and were fined for their final verdict of not guilty. The cause of these jurymen was reviewed on a writ of Habeus Corpus and Chief Justice Vaughan delivered the opinion of the court which established 'The right of juries' to give their verdict according to their convictions'
Quote from a plaque in the Old Bailey. This right has been enshrined in British law for centuries.

Jury trial is supremely important to the British public and it would be politically impossible for the Government to remove it. So the courts have surreptitiously sought to undermine the substance of jury trial, while preserving its appearance. In particular the courts are:

  • Banning those engaged in campaigns of political resistance from explaining their motivations and beliefs to the jury
  • Disallowing or ignoring relevant evidence and witnesses (including expert testimony as to the Government’s failure to act on the scientific advice)
  • Telling the jury that motives, even if articulated, are irrelevant and must be ignored
  • Sending people to prison for saying “climate change” or “fuel poverty” in court
  • Banning references to a jury’s right to acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience
  • Arresting and referring for prosecution those who highlight the right of jurors to make decisions on their conscience.
  • Directing the jury that defences such as necessity, proportionality or reasonable excuse are not available.
  • Threatening to move to judge only trials.

Taking a stand

Trudi holding a sign outside court

When Trudi Warner (68), a retired social worker, was moved by the repressive measures which threatened this principle to take a stand, holding up a sign communicating the jury’s right to make decisions of conscience, she was arrested and sent to the Old Bailey (where the same message is displayed!)

The Solicitor General, Michael Tomlinson KC, has informed Trudi that he is minded to apply for her committal to prison for doing this.

When 24 people replicated Trudi’s action in May 2023 outside Inner London Crown Court, all were referred to the Attorney General for contempt of court.

Those taking part included Quakers, health professionals, a priest, a gold medal Olympian, legal professionals and a retired police officer.  Alongside this, three people who put up posters displaying the same message along the road by Inner London Crown Court have been arrested for “perverting the course of justice”, and are awaiting charges. 

Now 40 members of the public have written to the Solicitor General to say If you prosecute Trudi Warner, you should prosecute us too.”

A group of people holding signs outside Isleworth Crown Court

The same action was again taken by members of the public at Isleworth Crown Court on 17 July 2023, where another trial was taking place concerning acts of conscience. On 18 July, the jury was discharged before it could consider a verdict.

On 21st July, blank signs, the international symbol of state silencing and repression, were held by some. This was a reflection on events in the courtroom and the court order which meant they couldn’t be reported on, despite the constitutional significance of what had occurred.

We believe that good information is the lifeblood of democracy

More actions will be taking place at Crown Courts across the country in the coming months. We’re ready to face the consequences for upholding the law, in solidarity with all those who are criminalised for speaking the truth about corporate crimes and governmental abuse of power.

The aims of the Defend Our Juries campaign are:

  1. to bring to public attention the programme to undermine trial by jury in the context of those taking action to expose government dishonesty and corporate greed
  2. to raise awareness of the vital constitutional safeguard that juries can acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, irrespective of a judge’s direction that there is no available defence (a principle also known as ‘jury equity’ or ‘jury nullification‘)
  3. to ensure that all defendants have the opportunity to explain their actions when their liberty is at stake, including by explaining their motivations and beliefs.

Want to take part in an action or support the campaign?