Rev’d Sue Parfitt, a retired member of the clergy, was on trial yesterday, charged with Obstruction of the Highway. She was arrested in December as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest outside a Ministry Of Defence facility. The protest, held at Abbey Wood near Bristol, highlighted the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the military just days after the government announced funding for defence which is double the amount they had recently committed to a green new deal.
Rev’d Sue was found guilty and received a fine and court costs of £1500. These costs relate to two actions – the one outside the MOD in December 2020 and another action in London in September 2020, for which she was found guilty of breaching a Section 14 order.
This is the powerful statement she gave in court.
I am not a lawyer and I am not a climate scientist but I am also not a criminal.
I sat on the highway outside the Ministry of Defence in order to draw the government’s attention to the need to urgently change course, in order to save millions of lives and in order to prevent genocide and ecocide.
I have exhausted all other means available to a citizen to get the government to act appropriately in this emergency. Thus, I must take unusual steps to draw the government’s attention to the need for immediate action. Civil disobedience is a way of amplifying the voice of the people who, according to a recent world wide poll, are universally concerned about the impending climate catastrophe and want their governments to take urgent action.
I do not believe that the Prosecution has established that my action on 11th December justified the interference in my human rights under Articles 9, 10 or 11 of the EHRC nor that my use of the necessity defence was inappropriate.
I submit that my action was the epitome of a peaceful protest, and highly proportionate to what I was trying to achieve – that is preventing total societal collapse resulting from the greatest danger that has ever faced humanity and other non-human species on the planet and highlighting the complicity of the MoD in this impending disaster.
What kind of a mad world is it that has a priest standing in a dock before you for telling the truth about this existential threat? What kind of an upside-down understanding of what the courts are for allows me to stand before you charged of a crime? I submit that all my actions are directed towards grasping justice for those who suffer now – in this moment – from the ravages of climate change and enabling justice for future generations who have no future at all in the present situation. It is not I who should be in the dock, it is the government.
The activities of the MoD do nothing to mitigate the impending climate and biodiversity catastrophes and everything to increase their likelihood. Why therefore would I not do all in my power to highlight the complicity of this institution in the most disastrous catastrophe that human kind has ever faced? Why would I not put my body on the line if my action could make even the slightest difference to the government’s inaction, denial and manipulation of the truth?
In the light of the facts I have laid before you, I suggest that my action in disrupting the lives of a few MoD employees and those servicing the site, for three hours, regretable as that inconvenience to them was and for which I apologise, hardly bears comparison with the total disruption of life which will result from societal collapse caused by the climate catastrophe. Thus my action was, I submit, wholly proportionate to the end that I intended.
I did not enjoy sitting on the highway in the rain and cold in mid December for 3 hours – in fact at nearly 80 years old such an action was probably not very good for me. But if I can use such actions to flag up the emergency, raise the alarm and demand that the government act faster to save the planet for future generations, I must do so.
Time is running out fast. “You are not doing enough” are Greta Thurnberg’s and David Attenborough’s cries to the UN and it must be our constant daily cry to our own government, to our communities, to our families and to our selves, for whom we have to take responsibility.
I do not have children and do not therefore have grandchildren but I assume that you may have or may hope to have them. I do what I am doing for them. My actions are taken to flag up the fact that governments are not telling the truth about the impending climate catastrophe and that we, the general public are not therefore understanding or responding to the truth of what we are facing at this critical time. We are not being helped to understand that the crisis we face is of a far greater order of magnitude than the Covid pandemic and requires a far greater immediate and urgent response.
When I was ordained a priest, I made a solemn promise “to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need.” I therefore claim the right and the duty to act on behalf of justice for those who are affected by climate change now and on behalf of future generations. I also claim the right to act to protect the biodiversity of God’s creation and to prevent its ongoing destruction.
As a Christian, I follow the radical, prophetic Jesus who laid down His life in order to bring life and justice to others, especially to the poor. As His follower, I must also be prepared, in some small way, to lay down my life to save the lives of others now and in the future. It is therefore of no consequence to me whether you find me guilty or not, nor the penalty that you may impose upon me.
The verdict you reach today does however have consequence – consequence for whether or not you show this court and the legal system to be complicit with the government’s own gross abnegation of its duty to protect its citizens. With several Crown Court cases producing acquittals and with the Supreme Court ruling on Ziegler last week, it is clear that the courts are beginning to use their authority to give voice to the fears and the yearnings of the vulnerable and the voiceless and to shew themselves to be on the right side of history. I hope therefore that you will find me not guilty, as that will give a clear signal that our legal system is fit for purpose and has caught up with the demands that contemporary events are placing upon it. We need as never before our courts and our legal system to uphold the claims of citizens to sound the alarm and help governments to draw back from the brink and focus on their essential duty of protecting their citizens from harm.
But whatever verdict you arrive at, I know that I must continue in this path of resistance until the governments of the world take the urgent steps required to interrupt the suicidal path that we are currently on. With regret, I can therefore promise to do no other than to continue to resist the evils of denial, neglect and complicity with all the strength of my body, mind and spirit until my strength fails.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the fines and court costs of Christian Climate Action (CCA) members can make a donation. Please mark your donation ‘court costs’ if you would like it to be used for this specific purpose.