Caroline Lucas cleared

Caroline Lucas cleared

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We looked last year at the fact that Caroline Lucas MP was being prosecuted for two offences relating to an anti-fracking protest. Well, on 17th April 2014 she was acquitted of both charges.

The case was heard by a District Judge who would have given a full and reasoned decision, but we don’t have a copy of it as yet (hopefully it will be published). We can quote the following from the BBC :

District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Ms Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.

On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any “actual obstruction” of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.

“I have already ruled that issues of climate change are irrelevant to the decisions I have to make in this trial,” he said. 

“Having said this, I am quite prepared to accept, having heard the evidence from all five defendants, that they are sincere and highly motivated in their commitment to the cause of reduction of carbon emissions.

It seems likely that there were plenty of arguments about Art 10 (freedom of expression) and Art 11 (freedom of assembly) as well as issues as to the right to peaceful protest under the common law. The Judge side-stepped and made a factual decision, which is perhaps not surprising – Judges hate having to address those issues as they are seen as inherently political (because they are). This urge to avoid anything political is all the stronger with the ECHR, for perhaps understandable reasons.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

11 COMMENTS

  1. District Judge Tim Pattinson will have done no more and no less than any of his colleagues in the magistrates’ courts, whether lay or professional, in giving a “full and reasoned decision” (any lay bench that failed to do so would not only be inviting an appeal but in clear breach of the HRA). That being said, he may well have been more circumspect in his comments this time round than when not only dismissing as excessive (and indeed manifestly so) the RSPCA’s application for costs in the Heythrop Hunt case, but also opining that RSPCA members might question whether this was what they wished their subscriptions to be spent on… He received words of advice from on high as a result.

  2. Ignorance of the law is not, ignorance of the facts may be a defence.

    As for the right to protest I take the view that it is always trumped by the right to go in peace and unmolested about your lawful occasions – even if those occasions are unpopular with some of your fellow citizens such as crossing a picket line or buying Ahava goods or flying short-haul on holiday.

  3. Thanks, Andrew, a very useful distinction.

    And I have discovered the existence of Ahava products, ‘though I had to Google the name. We don’t have such things out in the sticks; you Londoners lead such exciting lives.

  4. Another high profile case heard by a (single) district judge. Whenever abolition of the right to trial for low value thefts is raised there is an outcry, but this abomination of justice continues without question.

  5. At least when DJs are appealed, as they fairly often are, two or more justices join Herroner or Hizzoner on the Crown Court bench. It is ‘only’ in the magistrates’ courts that this aberration is perpetuated. DJJ(MC) would of course be even harder to justify on cost grounds if they had to sit with lay colleagues all the time. They’re nearly three times as expensive as it is. But a mixed bench could be a requirement for trials, where the “sole arbiter” rôle is at its most startlingly pronounced.

  6. Some juries sit for much longer. A statutory provision could require employers to release justices in such cases. A Bucks bench sat for over four months not that long ago. It can be done.

  7. Yes, the law could be changed to require employers to release justices; but no power on earth can prevent employers and the justices’ colleagues from being resentful. I rather suspect that the Bucks bench which you mention were all retired people; and apart from that being not a good cross-section of the community, retired people also have lives to lead. It was a tour de force and cannot readily be repeated.

  8. Most work colleagues have got over their “resentment” that their employers are required to take due account of the caring responsibilities of their workmates. When one of my deputies’ wife became bed bound with an extremely debilitating condition, and had to leave by 5.30pm in order to bridge the gap between the daytime and nighttime carers (and spend some genuinely quality time with his wife, who loves his cooking, company and the intimacy of their evenings together), there was some initial grumpiness. But the out-turn was that we all reorganised our work / life balance – including stopping the insidious practice of convening evening wrap-up meetings – in a more healthy and sustainable manner, and because he was unable to go off on the same sort holidays as other colleagues, and certainly not during peak school holiday periods etc., he was more than willing to pull some of the less popular ‘cover shifts’. I have frequently observed that the perceived ‘resentment’ of colleagues is invoked as a challenge to change, but once change is implemented, those selfsame individuals become just as zealous in defending the new reality!

  9. It’s a question of degree. Having a colleague off for a substantial time and having to cover the work is not going to be popular, especially when it’s not ordinary leave which everyone gets, so you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

    The most difficult problems arise in connection with weekends. I was once witness to a bitter row on a Friday evening between a woman whose one-in-six Saturday shift it was, and whose childcare had broken down, and a single man who refused to swap with her because he was going to be the best man at his nephew’s wedding! I don’t know how it turned out but he was of course right – anyone disagree?

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