Press release: 22 April 2024, Earth Day High court dismisses case against Trudi Warner following public demonstrations of support across England and Wales

High Court refuses Solicitor General permission to proceed with case

The High Court has this morning dismissed the application of Robert Courts MP, the Solicitor General, to imprison Trudi Warner, a 69 year-old retired social worker, for holding a sign outside Inner London Crown Court in March 2023. Her sign displayed the long-established principle of jury equity (i.e. that a jury has the right to acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, whatever the directions of the judge), and coincided with the prosecution of a group of people for taking direct action to tackle climate breakdown and fuel poverty. Delivering the judgement of the court, Mr Justice Saini stated:

“The Solicitor General’s case does not disclose a reasonable basis for committal … It is fanciful to suggest that Ms Warner’s conduct [amounted to common law contempt].

Her placard simply summarised the principle of jury equity. Her conduct was consistent with information sharing.

She was in essence a human billboard.”

The decision follows a nationwide public campaign in support of Trudi Warner, which has seen hundreds of people, from all walks of life, replicate her action at every Crown Court across England and Wales. In February, more than three hundred people wrote a letter to the Solicitor General inviting him to prosecute them too (to date they have received no response). Last week alone more than 700 people replicated her action.

Common sense prevails

Speaking immediately after the judgement, Ms Warner said:

I’m relieved that some common sense has prevailed in this case and that the High Court agrees that holding up a sign about the rights of juries should not be treated as a crime. In my worst nightmares, I couldn’t have imagined that my hand-written sign would lead to a case of this gravity with such severe penalties. At the same time, I have no regrets. The support I’ve received from the public has been moving and wonderful, and helped to ensure the vital democratic principle of jury equity is more widely understood around the country. Judge Reid and the Solicitor General might have wanted to conceal that principle from juries, but thanks to the public reaction their actions have had the opposite effect. I thank them for that.

I would also like to express solidarity with Dr Sarah Benn, a medical doctor and public servant, who was last week found guilty of misconduct by the GMC after being imprisoned for holding up a sign saying ‘Stop New Oil’”.

Decision a watershed moment in Government crackdown on protest?

The response to the prosecution of Ms Warner, which has attracted national and international attention, suggests the Government’s crackdown on protest may be starting to backfire. Newspapers from the US to Japan and India to Spain, have reported on Ms Warner’s story under headlines such as:

The right to protest is under threat in Britain, undermining a pillar of democracy

Alongside repeated demonstrations of public support, leading figures in law and the media have rallied to Ms Warner’s corner. Writing in the Barrister magazine last year, Richard Vogler, Professor of Comparative Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, University of Sussex, wrote:

“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 today, when the Solicitor General … has concluded that it is a prosecutable offence for a climate campaigner, Trudi Warner to hold up a sign outside a criminal court, simply proclaiming one of the fundamental principles of the common law.”

Writing in Prospect Magazine ahead of the decision, Alan Rusbridger suggested that if the case were to proceed, he’d be ready to hold up a sign himself:

“Trudi has single-handedly made the law look an ass. It is incredible, with a 66,000-case backlog in the criminal justice system, that a single hour of court time is wasted on trying to convict and jail her.

If the ridiculous happens—and Trudi is arraigned … — I’ll be there with my placard. And I hope thousands of others will be, too. And I hope they eventually give her a plaque alongside Edward Bushell.”

‘Actions take their significance from context’

In addressing the High Court on Thursday, Aiden Eardley KC, barrister for the Solicitor General, said:

“Words and actions take their significance from the context and their circumstances.”

He was referring to the fact that Trudi Warner held her sign as people were about to be prosecuted for taking direct action to protect the public from climate breakdown and fuel poverty (i.e. a case in which the jury’s conscience might be engaged). The irony of Mr Eardley’s words was not lost on the packed courtroom, familiar with the background to the case. Judge Silas Reid had issued an order, banning the defendants in all such cases from explaining the context and circumstances of their actions, and specifically banning them from using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court. On 7 February 2023, Judge Reid jailed David Nixon just for using those words in his courtroom. On 3 March 2023, he sent Amy Pritchard and Giovanna Lewis to prison for the same reason.

Extraordinary UN intervention

Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur for Environmental Defenders, under the legally binding Aarhus Convention, spoke out publicly against these rulings in an extraordinary end of mission statement in January:

“I was … alarmed to learn that, in some recent cases, presiding judges have forbidden environmental defenders from explaining to the jury their motivation for participating in a given protest or from mentioning climate change at all.

It is very difficult to understand what could justify denying the jury the opportunity to hear the reason for the defendant’s action, and how a jury could reach a properly informed decision without hearing it, in particular at the time of environmental defenders’ peaceful but ever more urgent calls for the government to take pressing action for the climate.”

A crime to hold a sign in ‘democratic’ Britain?

Tempting as it may be to regard the prosecution of Trudi Warner as a ‘one-off’, there was a sobering reminder on Thursday that it reflects a wider trend. As the hearing in Ms Warner’s case reached its conclusion on Thursday, news filtered through that Dr Sarah Benn, a GP and NHS doctor of more than 30 years, who served the British public on the frontline during the COVID pandemic, has been found guilty of ‘professional misconduct’ after being imprisoned for holding a sign saying ‘Stop New Oil”, in breach of an injunction against all forms of protest obtained by the US based fossil fuel giant, Valero

Trudi Warner (left) and Dr Sarah Benn

High Court decision bucks recent trend

In recent years, the Government has found staunch support from the courts in its so-called ‘crackdown on protest’, with the Court of Appeal removing a succession of defences that were previously available to those taking direct action against the continuing expansion of the fossil-fueled economy, and upholding substantial sentences of imprisonment for peaceful protest. So much so that questions are increasingly being asked about the influence of fossil fuel money on the justice system. Last year it emerged that City law firms have supported nearly £1.5 trillion in fossil fuel transactions since 2018, generating profits which permeate the system as a whole. Investigative journalism suggests it may be the fossil fuel companies themselves who are driving the crackdown on protest, via ‘think-tanks’ such as Policy Exchange.

The European Court of Human Rights has recently issued a ruling that governments which fail to align their policies to the Paris Agreement are acting unlawfully. That would apply to the UK government, which has committed to a policy of ‘maxing out’ on North Sea oil and gas, a position known to be incompatible with the Paris Agreement temperature limit of 1.5˚C.

Corporate influence runs deep

A spokesperson for Defend Our Juries, said:

We are overjoyed at today’s outcome, which vindicates the courage of Trudi Warner for taking action against the appalling injustices happening inside Inner London Crown Court. It also respects the courage of hundreds of members of the public across England and Wales who have replicated Trudi’s action.

But the Post Office scandal and the imprisonment of Dr Sarah Benn for simply holding a sign (déjà vu?) has shown us how the influence of big corporations, such as Fujitsu and Shell, runs deep across the British court system. Our work to ensure that law serves the interests of everyday people rather than corporate profit has only just begun.

Notes for editors

Press contact: 07795 316164


Images available here

See also:

Sending climate protesters to prison shows the law is an ass: A pensioner is facing two years in jail for holding a placard outside a court. Centuries of legal tradition are on her side” (Prospect, 12 April 2024)

We are All Trudi Warner! Promoting the Rights of Jurors in the Twenty First Century” (The Barrister, September 2023)

Protestors must be allowed to explain motives in court” (The Times, 13 March 2023)

Activists jailed for seven weeks for defying ban on mentioning climate crisis”, (openDemocracy, 3 March 2023)

The right to protest is under threat in Britain, undermining a pillar of democracy” (Associated Press, December 2023)

Report of UN Special Rapporteur, January 2024

Meet the Shadowy Network Vilifying Climate Protestors” (DeSmog, September 2023)

London law firms facilitated £1.48 trillion for fossil fuel companies – analysis” (Independent, May 2023)

The Defend Our Juries aims:

  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.