Press release: 5 February 2024 300 people write to new Solicitor General: “Since you’re prosecuting Trudi Warner, you should prosecute us too”

A group of people outside the Ministry of Justice holding Defend our Juries signs

On Monday the 5th February 12 people will assemble outside the Ministry of Justice to deliver an unusual letter [1]. Signed by 300 people, the letter requests that the new Solicitor General, Robert Courts MP, with a track record of voting against climate change measures [1A], prosecutes the signatories if he persists with prosecuting Trudi Warner. 

Trudi Warner

Trudi Warner, a 68-year old retired social worker, was arrested in March 2023 for standing outside Inner London Crown Court with a sign containing the same words as a plaque in the Old Bailey [2]. The plaque in the Old Bailey records the legally famous Bushel case [3] which established in law that a jury can return a verdict according to their conscience. You might think there is nothing contentious about holding a sign with a message that was once proudly displayed on the front of the Old Bailey, you’d be wrong. Trudi unknowingly stepped into a landscape of repressive, vindictive judicial practices by an increasingly authoritarian government.

The Legal Environment

The legal environment for political protest has become significantly more repressive. In 2018 three anti-fracking campaigners were jailed for public nuisance after blocking the roads to a fracking site in Lancashire. The sentences were soon overturned by the Court of Appeal which declared them to be “manifestly excessive” [4].

In 2022 the government passed the Police and Crime Act [5], immediately followed by the Public Order Act in 2023 [6]. Both these Acts significantly restrict the occasions and manner in which people are allowed to exercise their civil rights. Following the acquittal of the Colston 4 [7] [8] the Attorney General, a government minister and a Conservative MP,  referred the decision to the Court of Appeal to further restrict the defences available to defendants in political trials [9]. It is notable that following the Colston 4 case, the law was amended to protect statues, but not to address violence against women [10]. 

In spite of the repressive legal landscape, juries have been acquitting defendants. Juries acquitted defendants in the Colston 4 [11] case, The Elbit 8 [12], the HSBC 9 [13] and the Treasury firetruck case [14]. In the face of these acquittals certain judges have resorted to extreme measures. Defendants have been jailed for explaining their motivations to the jury [15]. One defendant, Gail Bradbrook, was threatened with a juryless trial if she told the jury of her motivations [16]. Tragically, Xavi Gonzalez-Trimmer took his own life earlier last year, aged 22, ahead of a trial at Inner London Crown Court in front of Judge Reid, the judge who imprisoned 3 Insulate Britain supporters for using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court, and where Trudi Warner displayed her sign. [17]

So severe is the current judicial situation that the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, Ian Fry, intervened last year over the sentences issued to Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland who were denied the defence of ‘reasonable excuse’, and imprisoned for 2 years 7 months and 3 years respectively. Marcus Decker faces the further threat of deportation [18] [19]. Separately the UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders recently expressed alarm at “an increasingly severe crackdown on environmental defenders” in the UK [20] [21] and has described the situation in Britain as ‘terrifying’.

Legal Support

Lawyers and legal academics and others have rallied to Trudi Warner’s defence and the democratic principle of jury equity [22] [23].

In July, a number of leading lawyers, including Michael Mansfield KC, spoke out publicly over the Solicitor General’s prosecution of Trudi Warner [24]. Melinda Janki, Guyana-based lawyer, and winner of the Commonwealth Rule of Law prize, 2023 said: 

“For decades ExxonMobil suppressed evidence that burning fossil fuels would destroy the global climate system. Today we in the Global South are living with the impacts. People are dying. Animals are dying. It is unconscionable and contrary to the rule of law for any judge to seek to suppress evidence of the destructive impacts of fossil fuels or to conceal from the jury their right to acquit as a matter of conscience. It’s wrong that the British Government proposes to prosecute someone for literally upholding the law on trial by jury. Why is the British Government undermining the jury’s fundamental right to curb executive abuse of power? Frightened of truth?”

Professor Richard Vogler wrote on 27 September: [25] 

“George Orwell noticed the tendency of repressive law to degenerate into farce, when truth becomes a lie and common sense is heresy. This is worth remembering now that the solicitor general, Michael Tomlinson KC, has concluded that it is right to take action against … Trudi Warner, for holding up a sign outside a criminal court, simply proclaiming one of the fundamental principles of the common law: the right of a jury to decide a case according to its conscience.

Lord Devlin famously said –

“The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make parliament utterly subservient to his will; and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant could afford to leave a subject’s freedom in the hands of 12 of his countrymen.”

– setting out the key constitutional safeguarding role that a jury has. Lord Devlin implies there is a constitutional obligation on juries to acquit according to their conscience, the very sign that Trudy Warner held outside the Inner London Crown Court.

Grassroots Campaign

Trudi Warner’s arrest has created anger and inspired a grassroots push back. 24 people repeated Trudi Warner’s action in May, then 40 people in July. In September campaign group Defend our Juries [26] facilitated 252 people sitting outside 25 courts [27] [28] in England and Wales. In December, on the second Defend our Juries national day of action, 500 members of the public sat with the same sign held by Trudi outside 50 courts across England and Wales. [29] [30] This represents over half of the courts in England and Wales. All of the courts ran as usual. No-one was arrested on either national day.

Latest legal moves

In the latest salvo in the government’s campaign of repression, the Attorney General, Victoria Prentis, a conservative MP, has referred the successful defence used by the HSBC 9 [31] to the Court of Appeal, hoping to reduce or remove the defence. The case is due to be heard on Wednesday 21st February at the Royal Court of Justice.

Following yet another government reshuffle, Robert Courts MP is now the new Solicitor General. His first act in this case was to send prosecution papers to Trudi Warner. It is notable that the papers were sent on the last working day of December, suggesting the new minister is looking to avoid scrutiny of his actions.

The 300 signatories are asking really basic questions.

  • Why does the judiciary not want juries to know their rights? 
  • Given that those quietly upholding the law on the signs cause no disruption to anyone, what is the justification for interfering with the right to freedom of expression?
  • Shouldn’t the Ministry of Justice be defending the right, under the human rights act, for people to freely meet and exchange facts and ideas, including holding signs?
  • Of the many hundreds of people that have stood outside of courts, why is the Solicitor General only prosecuting Trudi Warner? 

If the Solicitor General can’t answer these questions now then it seems likely he will have some considerable trouble in court if he does prosecute Trudi Warner. The 300 signatories  await his reply. 


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