Quaker, CCA member and Extinction Rebellion activist Ian Bray was one of the seven in the dock, accused of committing criminal damage at Shell’s London headquarters in the London Rebellion of April 2019.
The acquittal of six of the activists by the jury (the seventh had felt compelled to plead guilty for reasons of child care, but was treated with leniency by the Judge) was a significant ruling, heralded as a victory for climate activism.
What follows is Ian’s moving closing statement to the jury.
“I’m very privileged to be here and aware this work is overseen. I’m going to read this speech because I don’t do speeches, and I’m just going to take a moment to look at you because I want to really see you and for you to really see me.
“Lord, take my soul, but the struggle continues.” These were the last words of Ken Saro-Wiwa just before he was executed in the ’90s at the behest of Shell. One small part of that struggle is going on here today in this courtroom – and I hope I’m worthy to carry that – and now pass it onto you.
“Quakers refuse all oaths, as an oath is primarily with God. Some would say that if an oath is taken, it is only binding if it is freely entered into. In the past, Quakers have been imprisoned for this refusal in English courts of law because of the implication of two standards of truth when there is only one. Oaths have had a long history in England of being used coercively.
“To use some more Quaker ideas, I hope I’ve ‘lived adventurously’ enough to speak a small amount of ‘truth to power’ and that my body has stopped the wheels turning just long enough for us to be here. It certainly feels to be what love requires of me at this time.
“I’m sorry to load you with this burden of decision that you did not volunteer for and may not feel comfortable with. I appreciate that we can’t all know the outcome and value of our decisions as we live and make them – but sometimes they have to be made regardless. There are no courts of morality, only courts of law, so we find ourselves here with all the risks that entails. We are not above the law but subject to it.
“Ms Wilson [the prosecuting barrister] has spoken of ‘anarchy’ and, somewhat surprisingly for a legal professional, has used the word in its incorrect sense of ‘leading into chaos’ when it actually means “without leaders”, and I wonder why that has been done? The true implication of anarchy is that everyone takes full responsibility for their own actions. The Quaker church has no clergy or formal leadership and we are each accountable for our own actions – and these actions are held in the light by others.
“Ms Wilson implied that we would all be better to abdicate all responsibility for the future – and justice – to the UK government. My experience of working with refugees, those rendered stateless by the UK Government, the homeless, the disabled, and from campaigning against the arms industry, suggests that this delegation of responsibility is unwise. Indeed others here have referred to the Government’s three losses in court to Client Earth for breaking its own laws.
“In taking personal responsibility for our actions, and acting conscientiously in pursuit of justice, we are making ourselves subject to the law – and the force of the law – by being here. After going through this process, I am still much more afraid of climate change than I am of arrest or sanction. I hope the story I told about international lawyer, Farhana Yamin, who I pointed out in court with us, who felt despondent at the chances of progress – even after helping write the Paris Agreement, which was supposed to be legally binding upon governments – has at least begun to show the limitations of conventional methods of achieving change.
“In essence you’ve been shown the narrow – and specific – legal arguments of the prosecution and we have offered a moral response that is broad and nuanced. Unfortunately, you only have a binary choice to show where the judgement should lie between these two approaches.
“So I humbly rest this decision with all of you as the representative conscience of the people and I hope you can engage in a gentle and fulfilling discussion. I realise this may not be not a clear cut choice, but it’s a choice that has to be made.
“I submit to your judgement.”