Climate protesters in England and Wales lose criminal damage defence | Environmental activism

UK Court Rules Against Climate Protesters, Stripping Them of Criminal Damage Defense in Environmental Activism Cases

In a significant ruling, the Court of Appeal has made it clear that the motivations and beliefs of climate protesters cannot justify criminal damage. This decision marks a pivotal change, emphasizing that damaging property is not excused by the defendant’s intentions or beliefs.

Previously, some protesters had successfully argued in court that if property owners were fully aware of the climate change crisis, they would have consented to the damage. This defense hinged on the belief in the owner’s hypothetical consent, given the circumstances.

However, this perspective shifted when the Attorney General, Victoria Prentis KC, challenged this defense in an appeal. The case, involving a defendant known only as C, led the Court of Appeal to conclude that a defendant’s political or philosophical beliefs, as well as their reasoning and broader motivations, are too indirectly related to the act of criminal damage to serve as a lawful excuse.

Tom Little KC, representing the Attorney General, argued that the so-called “consent” defense, under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, was a misinterpretation of the law. This defense solely applies to criminal damage and is based on the defendant’s genuine belief that the property owner would have consented to the damage if they were aware of the reasons behind it.

Henry Blaxland KC, defending C, argued that it should be up to a jury to decide whether a defendant truly believed in the owner’s consent to the damage. He warned that denying defendants the opportunity to present this defense could undermine the constitutional right to a trial by jury.

The Lady Chief Justice of England and Wales, Sue Carr, clarified the court’s stance. She stated that the circumstances surrounding the damage must be directly linked to the act itself. This could include factors like the timing, location, and scale of the damage. In cases of protest, the fact that the damage was part of a protest could be considered. However, the political or philosophical beliefs motivating the person causing the damage, as well as their broader motivations, are deemed too detached from the act of damage to be relevant.

Furthermore, the court ruled that any testimony from the defendant regarding the impacts or facts of climate change would not be allowed. This decision underscores a clear boundary between the motivations behind an act of protest and the legal consequences of causing damage.