This blog is a long read. It will take around 6-7 minutes to read.
Rev Dr Sue Parfitt was in court on 1st February 2022 where she was convicted of contempt of court for breaking the government’s M25 injunction on 29th October and 2nd November last year. She did this as part of Insulate Britain protests. Here is the powerful statement she gave in court.
When I stepped onto the motorway on October 29th, I was sure of my reason for being there. I was there to witness to the truth of the science regarding the impending climate catastrophe and I was there in obedience to God’s call to me to call out injustice to the poor. I was there to ask the government, yet again, to take action on behalf of the poor in this country who suffer so grievously from fuel poverty, asking the government to take this one small action – to insulate homes – and in so doing, to make them warmer for everyone, and to cut carbon emissions by around 15% – a first step towards becoming carbon zero. I am proud of our action; I am ashamed of the government; I acted out of love.* The civil disobedience that we took part in that day was a public obedience to God’s law of nonviolent love which stands up in a loving manner to oppose and resist any form of injustice or systemic violence to God’s children.
But why am I standing here before you this morning my Lord? The reason for that is not at all clear to me.
When I was arrested, I was exercising my right to protest at the government’s outrageous inaction in the face of terrifying and accelerating climate change which is threatening the imminent extinction of the human race. No light issue. I was exercising my rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act, which give me the right to manifest my religious beliefs and assert my right to freedom of expression and assembly. These rights are profoundly important in a democratic society but they are of course limited and my exercise of them must rightly be tested in a court of law.
The police themselves recognise these rights. They have a duty to protect them as well as to balance them against the rights of others whose daily lives may be interrupted or impeded by my action. So the police allow proper time for the protest to take place, as well as protecting us from the natural anger of the public. The police behaved impeccably on this occasion, stopping the traffic and allowing us to sit for some considerable amount of time, holding up our banners making our simple demand of the government, before arresting us and removing us to the police station.
But what am I doing here this morning? When we were released from police custody on October 29th, we were not charged with any offence. We were released, pending investigations. Later we discovered that the government, in the form of the Transport Minister, Grant Shapps, had ordered the police not to charge us. Is it not strange that the Secretary of State sought to circumvent Parliament, where obstruction of the road is already a criminal offence according to Section 137 of the Highways Act 1981?
We then discovered that this strange action was taken in order to allow National Highways, a private agency, wholly owned by the government, to bring a civil case against us for having broken an Injunction not to trespass on the M25 – an Injunction later extended to the whole strategic network of major roads in the country, again ordered by the government.
So, my Lord, I stand here before you today, deprived of all my human rights guaranteed by the Convention and enshrined in English law. I stand here, forced to plead guilty in law, when, having a lawful excuse for my action, I do not believe myself to be guilty in fact and facing an immediate prison sentence. I can in other words today be immediately deprived of my liberty by the actions of a private agency entirely controlled by the government, bringing a civil case against me.
Does this my Lord, constitute justice in any normal sense of the word? Does it constitute justice that I was unable to challenge the Injunction at the beginning of the proceedings, because to do so would cost such a vast amount of money and take such an unconscionably long time, that no one who is not either a millionaire or a pauper could possibly entertain the idea. Thus, long before arriving in the Court here today, I was forced to give up my most fundamental right to choose whether to plead guilty or not guilty to the offence as stated.
I of course accept that I broke the Injunction placed on the M25 and in that sense I am guilty. But I, like my fellow defendants here today are people of high principle, prepared to sacrifice our time, wellbeing and liberty for the sake of waking up the government to the insanity of the situation we are in. Though I am forced to plead guilty, I want to assert most strongly that it is not I who is guilty, it is the government, who, by their criminal inaction and neglect are condemning the human race to extinction.
In bringing me to court in this way, the government is surely abusing its power. How dare the government remove my fundamental human rights under articles 9, 10 and 11 which would have been engaged if I had been charged by the police and taken to a criminal court in the usual way? How dare the government hand me over to its own private agency who then has the right to put me on trial and take away my liberty?
It is not lost on any of us here, that part of the motivation for this procedure is a financial one. At our last appearance in this court on December 14th, we were each asked to pay £5,000 court costs. Actually, National Highways asked for much more, but after a challenge from our barrister, this became the agreed figure for most of us. A fortune. It is required apparently in order to pay the exorbitant fees of National Highways’ QC’s and solicitors here today; required in order to pay for the ridiculous duplication of notices served upon us over the last few months; required because National Highways is bringing separate charges against us for our different breaches of the Injunction, ensuring that the profits from these trials are maximised. Why I wonder was not this Injunction breach being considered today, not considered on December 14th when we were being examined about a breach of the Injunction on a different date? This would have saved a great deal of time and money.
Our action taken on October 29th requires a political solution not a judicial one. We made our lawful protest on the motorway because we have exhausted all other possible means of demanding that the government assumes its responsibility to protect its citizens from the impending climate catastrophe as well as enabling 8,000 of its poorest citizens to avoid dying from cold in their own homes this winter. A shocking statistic indeed.
You, members of the prosecuting team, no doubt have children and may hope to have grandchildren. What will you say to them when they ask “What did you do, Mummy or Daddy, to stop us having no future? What did you do to prevent climate change from taking away our beautiful world?” Maybe all you will be able to say to them is that you prosecuted those people who were prepared to give up even their liberty to demand that the government takes action on their behalf. You will be able to tell your children that you managed to shut us up – for a while at least – by putting us in prison and by making a good deal of money for yourselves in the process.
We are at a cross roads, facing the loss of everything we hold dear and so we need to enlist the support of every person of influence, like yourselves, to do something different. Instead of prosecuting the people who are sounding the alarm, I am asking that you instead bring your weight to bear upon the government – to insist that we cannot have no civilisation and no ecosystem left to pass on to our children.
Such a path is costly. It has been for us. We have had to step out of our normal lives of service and commitment to families, friends, colleagues and all those to whom we normally minister and try to serve. We have had to face the fear of sitting on motorways and bearing the hostility and the abuse of those who we are obstructing. We have had to accept the consequences of our actions and face the fear and discomfort of being arrested and confined. We have had to face up to coming before you in a Court of law charged with contempt when none of us have done other in our lives but uphold the law and help others to do so too. We stand before you facing a prison sentence – a terrifying prospect for those who have never entertained the idea of such a thing in our wildest imagination.
And you too would face difficulties and sacrifices if you were to hear our cry to you today and to take the unconscionably bold step of asking the Judge to dismiss this trial, putting all the weight of the law instead behind calling the government to account for its criminal inaction and unpardonable neglect.
We are prepared to take the consequences of our actions and to bear the sacrifice of all that that entails. Are you?
I appreciate the inconvenience that my action caused to many people on October 29th and I apologise to them unreservedly for it. I do not in any way relish the experience of causing inconvenience, pain or fear to others. On the contrary, my life has been devoted to relieving such pain and inconvenience wherever possible. I put it to you however, that such inconvenience that was indeed caused to others on that day, was highly proportional in its minimal effect, compared with the utterly appalling degree of suffering and colossal degree of disruption that awaits us all if we do not take the action that is required now. In this knowledge, I can therefore say: I am proud of our action; I am ashamed of the government; I acted out of love.*
* This sentence was agreed for use by all the defendants on trial at the same time as Sue as a way in which they could express solidarity with one another.
Sue was given a suspended prison sentence.