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‘For history to judge, not the jury’: judge rules climate crisis ‘irrelevant’

Judge Silas Reid has again ruled that protesters can’t address the climate emergency in their legal defence

Anita Mureithi
22 February 2023, 4.20pm
Protesters linked to Insulate Britain are being tried for the ‘archaic’ common law offence of causing a public nuisance
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The judge presiding over a trial of three Insulate Britain protesters has ruled that anything they say about climate change, fuel poverty and property insulation would be “irrelevant”.

Judge Silas Reid told the trio at Inner London Crown Court on Wednesday that – while they might genuinely believe that they had been performing a public good and not a public nuisance – jurors should not take their motivations into account.

“It is for history to judge and not the jury,” he said.

These are among 50 cases linked to the protest group Insulate Britain being heard this year across Inner London, Hove, Lewes and Reading crown courts, in which alleged protesters are being tried for the ‘archaic’ common law offence of causing a public nuisance.

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In a series of incidents across the UK, Insulate Britain blocked roads to raise awareness of its demands that the government help prevent fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions by insulating more homes.

Giovanna Lewis, 65, from Dorset; Amy Pritchard, 37, from London; and Paul Sheeky, 46, from Warrington, are accused of blocking a major junction in central London on 25 October 2021 at around 8am. All three deny the charges.

The jury heard from the Crown Prosecution Service that 25 arrests had been made that morning as protesters lay in the road while others glued themselves to the ground, bringing rush hour traffic on Upper Thames Street and Bishopsgate to a standstill that lasted hours. All three defendants were arrested at Bishopsgate, the prosecutor said, after refusing to leave when police arrived on the scene.

In his opening address to the court on Monday, Reid said: “This is not a trial about climate change or fuel poverty.”

Reid has been accused of “stripping away” protesters’ legal defences following the sentencing of David Nixon, who was given an eight-week sentence for contempt of court – because he defied Reid’s instruction not to cite the climate crisis as motivation for his participation in the same Bishopsgate roadblock in 2021.

Lewis, Pritchard and Sheeky are due to present their defence to jurors this week.

The court heard from the judge that defendants had hoped being able to talk about climate and ecological crises as motivation for their actions would “touch people’s hearts” and bring morality to proceedings.

But Reid said: “It seems to me that the desires of the defendants to speak about the motivations of their actions is that they believe that the jury will look at the case in a moral way rather than in a legal way. That would be wholly wrong.”

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