A Fundamental Challenge to the Rule of Law

In Maidstone Crown Court, Six Greenpeace climate change activists have been cleared of causing £30,000 of criminal damage at the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, in a verdict that is expected to embarrass the government and lead to more direct action protests against energy companies.  In earlier cases over the last dozen years, vandals acting in the name of Greenpeace or other leftist causes have been acquitted of damage to GM crops, damage to an incinerator, damage to a Trident submarine and damage to a British Aerospace Hawk jet aircraft.

The defence of the Maidstone six was essentially that their behaviour was justified by the potential damage to the environment which could be caused by the power station.

These decisions represent a direct challenge to the rule of law as we understand it.  There is a defence in cases of criminal damage that the damage was undertaken to prevent a greater evil — so it would be OK, for example, to break a stalled car’s window so as to move it out of the path of an on-coming train.  But if the mere opinions and personal convictions of the vandals can be held to be a justification, then we are facing anarchy.  Historically, those — like the Suffragettes — who broke the law on the grounds of conscience, knew and accepted the consequences of their actions.  They were prepared to go to jail for their cause, and whether we agree with them or not, we can respect their courage and commitment.  Now, it seems, the conscience justifies the criminal action, and absolves the vandal from any penalty.

I personally believe that The Hunting Act is a denial of my rights as a free-born Englishman, and I believe that hunting (especially fox-hunting) is good for wild-life and bio-diversity; good for countryside and landscape; and even, in a broad sense, good for the welfare and sustainability of the fox population itself.  Is this a defence if I break the law on Hunting?  I also believe that wind farms cannot be justified in either environmental or economic terms (see the excellent report today from the Renewable Energy Foundation), and that wind-farms blight homes and communities.  I believe that the government’s huge reliance on wind in its energy planning is a threat to our country’s energy security, to our economy, to the prosperity and security of everyone in the UK — a threat as serious, and much more likely to happen, than Global Warming.  So is it OK if I blow up a few wind turbines?

There are Animal Rights lunatics so exercised about the suffering of laboratory animals that they will blow up research facilities, release caged animals (in some cases, such as that of mink, causing great ecological damage), beat up the staff of research companies, and even dig up and hold for ransom the earthly remains of the relatives of research company directors.  Are their actions justified by the animal suffering they imagine they are saving?

There are those in America, and perhaps in the UK, who believe that abortion is murder, that an abortion clinic is a den of infanticide.  So they feel justified in attacking clinics and shooting medical staff.  Can they use conscience as a defence?  There are those (bizarrely) who seek to justify paedophilia on the grounds of “children’s sexual rights”.  Is this a defence when they stand trial?

Most conspicuously, terrorists frequently believe their actions justified by a greater good.  Apparently the 9/11 bombers believed that in destroying the Twin Towers, they were doing God’s will.  If they had survived, would their claimed religious beliefs have been a defence?

We are on a slippery slope here.  If we can be acquitted of serious crimes because we happen to believe that we serve a greater good, the Rule of Law in our country is hopelessly compromised.  The issue is not whether, in a particular case, a jury happens to agree with the conscience and prejudices of the accused.  The issue is whether large groups of people are entitled, because of their religious and other views, to break the laws which the rest of us obey.  If so, then the Rule of Law will be replaced by the Law of the Jungle.

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12 Responses to A Fundamental Challenge to the Rule of Law

  1. Malcolm Edward says:

    I agree absolutely

  2. Ken Stevens says:

    In Scottish Law anyway, it seems that “justification” can only be pleaded in cases of actual, present hazard to the individuals concerned. A Sheriff court acquitted some anti-nuclear submarine protesters but a higher court ruling criticized the Sheriff’s decision on this point of law. The main aspect was on the contention that nuclear weapons were illegal (also rebutted) The justification point was dealt with as follows:
    “..We cannot see any substance at all in the suggestion that what the respondents did was justified by necessity. The actions of the respondents were planned over months. What they did on board “Maytime” was not a natural or instinctive or indeed any kind of reaction to some immediate perception of danger, or perception of immediate danger..”
    [- in the context of Scots law of necessity, with the requirements inter alia of immediacy of danger and prospects of prevention]

    Is English Law different?

  3. Jim Carr says:

    Quite so, Roger.
    Another important point about this trial, which you, perhaps understandably, omitted to mention, is the part played by the Conservative PPC for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, and the deafening silence emanating from David Cameron.
    Goldsmith should have been condemned in the strongest terms by Cameron.

  4. Jonathan Drake says:

    Roger, in my opinion you are absolutely correct. I feel very strongly that these activists should be sent for retrial in a court where their crimes are dealt with, not some unsubstantiated possibility of a future third party crime. What next, Al Qaeda using a similar argument as justification for terrorism?

    I am seriously unnerved by the close alliance of Goldsmith with Greenpeace and consequently the influence observed on Cameron. Indeed, in my experience, Cameron is often the butt of climate jokes when politics are discussed. His cycling antics and the garden ornament he claims generates electricity are jesting points.

    Moreover the associations can be seen in the Conservative party’s energy policy “Power to the People”. I noted in my critique of this document:
    “There is little to differentiate the “Power to the People” energy policy from those of the other major UK political parties. This is probably for several reasons:
    • The same starting assumption is used. [Climate Change per IPCC]
    • It is possible that the same advisers/consultants were involved.
    • They suffer the same ideological bias.
    • There is pandering to the perceived public opinion.
    • Government intervention in the sector is deemed a last resort.
    This means that the policy will have negligible sway at election time.”

    The full transcript can be found here: A Response to: “Power to the People”

    I sincerely hope that the Conservative party will erase and distance itself from this ideology in time for the general election.

  5. Graham Smith says:

    Whilst I was a little surprised at the verdict, I wonder if it was in part a reaction against the increasingly aggressive measures taken against peaceful protests since Labour came to power in 1997?

    My eldest son who (unlike myself) believes climate change to be a real threat to his future, has participated in several peaceful protests, the most recent being the Kingsnorth Climate Change Camp. Having listened to his experiences, and watched video coverage of these events, I have been appalled at the tactics employed by the police during these events.

    It has long been the right of every freeborn Englishman accused of a crime to be tried before a jury of his peers. That is what has happpened here and, instead of calling for a retrial because he did not like the verdict returned (which is a common New Labour response: as an aside, when I was younger it was said that in Communist Russia people would be retried until the state got the verdict it wanted and I am very sad that this attitude is now becoming commonplace in Britain), Jonathan Drake should consider very carefully WHY the jury returned this unexpected verdict.

  6. Graham Smith says:

    Sorry to hog the comments tonight, but I have just seen Peter Risdell’s post over at Freeborn John blog:

    The defence argued that the protesters had “lawful excuse” because they were seeking to prevent a greater harm – the apocalypse that will be caused by human carbon emissions.

    I haven’t seen an account of the proceedings, but wonder how the government, or any state prosecutor, could have countered this argument. After all, a great deal of government policy is built on the same, probably untrue, idea.

    This makes global warming, or more broadly the re-brand as climate change, the perfect legal argument. A prosecution could not counter it, as a matter of political policy.”

  7. John Morton says:

    Dear Jonathan

    Your points can aptly be summed up with the phrase “one party state”.

    A state party that is composed of the mindless goons of Common Purpose, of which it would appear that Mr Cameron is a leading member.

    The next issue of the UK Column covers this issue extensively. I recommend that you contact our office in Plymouth and get a subscription.


  8. Roger Helmer says:

    I think we have to see where Party policy goes on these issues. I was heartened by a recent Spectator article by Alan Duncan and Liam Fox, calling for energy security and a diverse and robust energy policy. But I absolutely repudiate the views and the actions of Zac Goldsmith. He should be ashamed of his involvement in this case.

  9. JD says:

    Graham Smith,

    I am in no way proposing that they are tried until the outcome is reversed. I am merely suggesting that they should be tried impartially for their crimes, not third party crimes. Of more concern is the possibility that the jury was bullied into its decision by partisan “experts” and thus had little choice but to make that decision.

    As you pointed out, the outcome was decided before the hearing “as a matter of political policy”. Of course that essentially means that a retrial would produce the same result, so point taken.

    I do not condemn them for their beliefs, and they are most welcome to make their ideas known. But that should be done with due recourse to the law.

    The actions of the police are another matter. I would tend to agree that they sometimes appear rather aggressive, but that is not the discussion.

    For the record, I am not a Labour supporter, and certainly not communist.

  10. Ryan Lavelle says:

    Dr James Hansen is the instigator here.

    He is now calling for skeptics and oil executives to be tried for “crimes against humanity”!!!

    Apparently, there is now a letter writing campaign to have him sacked for misuse of his position as director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which would be a step in the right direction.

  11. John Morton,

    Thank you for the link.

    It is indeed most worrying that our leaders are so easily lead.

  12. Harry Taylor says:

    I believe Greenpeace is a terrorist organisation. They want to close power stations – coal fired &, presumably, nuclear. They would then be on the streets protesting because of electricity rationing. Why cannot they accept that global warming is a normal cyclic condition that the Earth has endured since the ‘Big Bang’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with mankind and it will continue, regardless of our puny efforts to halt it. Apparently, the ice at the North Pole is melting – so – the volume of water released is less than that of the melted ice.

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