On 25th September 2013 the CPS announced that Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavillion, and the only Green Party MP in the UK, will be prosecuted following her attendance at an anti-fracking protest last month.
Ms Lucas faces two charges –
1. Failing to comply with a direction given by the Police
Under s14 Public Order Act 1986, if the police consider that, in all the circumstances, a public assembly :
“(a) may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or
(b)the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,”
then they can give directions as to the location, duration, or maximum number of attendees at a protest.
There are three separate offences that this section creates, depending on the individuals role in the protest. A protester that fails to comply with the direction can be fined (maximum Level 3 fine). Someone who is organising the protest, or someone who incites others to breach a direction, can be sent to prison for a maximum of 3 months or a Level 4 fine.
There are no sentencing guidelines.
2. Obstructing the Highway
This is an offence under s137 Highways Act 1980. Someone is guilty of an offence if “without lawful authority or excuse, [they] in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway“. The maximum sentence is a Level 3 fine.
As well as ‘factual defences (as in “it wasn’t me”), there are potentially arguments over the reasonableness and lawfulness of the behaviour of the police and the protesters, as well as arguments relating to the ECHR and the right to peaceful protest. We will look at those in detail when the case has finished.
What happens now?
She is due for a first appearance at Crawley Magistrates’ Court on 9th October. Although these offences will conclude in the Magistrates’ Court and there won’t be a jury trial, we will refrain from saying anything more about it until the case has concluded.