Press release: 4 December 2023 Hundreds demonstrate outside Crown Courts amid justice lottery for civil rights trials

An estimated 500 people gather outside Crown Courts nationwide

Today, 4 December, hundreds of people have gathered at more than 50 Crown Courts across England and Wales to uphold the principle of jury equity, i.e. the right of juries to determine whether a serious crime has been committed whatever the trial judge may think or say. Famously, the principle was used to acquit the civil servant, Clive Ponting in 1985, after he leaked information exposing the Government’s misinformation over the sinking of the General Belgrano – despite the judge directing the jury that Mr Ponting had no defence to a breach of the Official Secrets Act. [1][2][3]

The principle has recently become contentious over juries repeatedly acquitting members of groups taking action for political purposes, such as members of Extinction Rebellion, Palestine Action and the Colston 4, to name a few. Whereas some judges are content to leave the decision to the jury, others have been taking extreme measures to prevent juries from reaching not guilty verdicts in such cases. Measures have included banning defendants from explaining their motives for taking action (in some cases people have been imprisoned just for using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in court) and arresting those attempting to communicate the long-established principle of jury equity. [4][5][6][7][8][9]

Most consequential sign in British history?

Trudi Warner, a 68 year-old retired social worker, was arrested for holding a sign outside Inner London Crown Court, explaining jury equity. News of Trudi’s arrest has created anger and inspired a movement. 24 people repeated Trudi Warner’s action in May, then 40 people in July, who also wrote to the Solicitor General inviting him to prosecute them too. In September Defend our Juries facilitated 252 people sitting outside 25 courts across England and Wales. No-one was arrested. Today, 4 December, on the second Defend our Juries National Day, 500 members of the public sat with jury equity signs outside 50 courts. [10][11][12]

Lawyers and legal academics and others have also rallied to the defence of Ms Warner and the democratic principle of jury equity. [13][14][15][16]

In July, a number of leading lawyers, including Michael Mansfield KC, spoke out publicly over the Solicitor General’s prosecution of Trudi Warner (“Contempt threat against climate activist may undermine trial by jury, lawyers say”):

Jury trial is the jewel in the crown of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom and has to be preserved and protected. The right of a jury to return verdicts according to their ‘convictions’ and ‘consciences’ has been enshrined since the trial of two Quakers in 1670 – William Penn and William Mead. It has been memorialised with a plaque in the Old Bailey. No defendant and no defence counsel should be prohibited from referencing this paramount feature of our system.”

Professor Richard Vogler wrote on 27 September (“Trudi Warner reveals the dark secret of English courts: juries do have the right to follow their consciences”):

“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.

More than 150 health workers have written an open letter to the Attorney General and Solicitor General “to express our deepest concerns regarding the prosecution of Trudi Warner”. They make reference to Xavi Gonzalez-Trimmer, a young man who took his own life earlier this 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][18][19]

In a different context, concerning a police officer prosecuted for speeding to the scene of a life-threatening attack, the Met Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, recently said “Thank God for the sense of British juries”. [20]

Justice lottery in political trials

This split between those who trust in the jury and those who don’t, is now being played out directly in the courts. Over the last two months, two jury trials concerning more or less identical allegations have exposed a fundamental divergence in the approach taken by different judges, turning criminal justice into a lottery.

In November, 9 women were charged with causing £500K’s worth of damage by breaking windows at HSBC’s HQ in Canary Wharf in April 2021, in response to HSBC’s £80bn in fossil fuel investments since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. In that case the judge, Judge Bartle, allowed the defendants to argue their actions were justified and to explain the role of the jury. The jury acquitted all 9 of the women. [21][22]

A month earlier, Dr Gail Bradbrook was tried for breaking a window at the Department of Transport, to highlight the Department’s support for HS2 and Heathrow expansion. In that case the judge, Judge Edmunds, directed the jury that Dr Bradbrook had no defence in law, prohibited her from explaining her motivations to the jury and banned her from explaining the principle of jury equity to the jurors. Judge Edmonds also threatened to move the entire trial to a judge-only trial. In that case, the jury found Dr Bradbrook guilty. [23]

Arguably, the split reflects a broader political antagonism between vested corporate interests, which threaten to undermine British democracy through lobbying, sponsorship and legal action against governments, and calls for enhanced, deliberative democracy (through citizens’ assemblies) which draw inspiration from the principles of trial by jury as a counter to corruption. [24] [25]

UN intervention highlights dangers of judicial lottery

For those losing the judicial lottery, the consequences can be severe. When Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland were denied the defence of ‘reasonable excuse’, this resulted in imprisonment for 2 years 7 months and 3 years respectively and potential deportation. The UN has intervened alleging that the prison sentences imposed on Decker and Trowland were incompatible with fundamental civil and political rights. [26]

Speaking on behalf of Defend Our Juries, Dr Clive Dolphin said:

“It should never be forgotten that in 1924 trial by jury was abolished in Germany via the Emergency Judicial Organisation Act, without effective debate in the Reichstag. To distract from the reality of what was occurring, the replacement courts were renamed Schwurgericht – ‘jury court’. History tells us that an authentically democratic component of the criminal justice system is a vital safeguard against the abuse of executive power. 

That’s why so many are risking arrest and prosecution today – to defend not only the principle of jury equity but to defend our democracy.”


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Notes for editors

[1] Groups are expected outside the following Crown Courts (approx. 50);  Aylesbury, Birmingham, Bolton, Bournemouth, Bradford, Bristol, Caernarfon, Carlisle, Cardiff, Croydon, Derby, Exeter, Guildford, Gloucester, Hove, Kingston-upon-Thames, Inner London Crown Court, Leeds, Lewes, Lincoln, Liverpool, London Old Bailey, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Mold, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Portsmouth, Preston, Plymouth, Reading, Salisbury, Sheffield, Shrewsbury, Southampton, Southwark, Snaresbrook (London), Stafford, St. Albans, Swansea, Swindon, Truro, Warwick (Leamington Spa), Wolverhampton, Wood Green (London), Woolwich (London) and Worcester.

[2] The Defend Our Juries campaign 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.