PRESS RELEASE: BREAKING: 81 year-old priest, defies judge who jailed defendants for speaking about climate motivations

15th May 2023 9:45AM

Press conference: 11am, Newington Gardens with Matt Hutchings KC

For immediate release

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An 81-year-old Anglican priest is among 24 people today who are displaying signs at Inner London Crown Court in a show of solidarity with defendants being banned from talking about their motivations or using the words “climate change” or “fuel poverty” during their trials, three of whom have been sent to prison. [1][2] Rev Sue Parfitt has joined the group, which includes seven medical professionals, three Quakers, a former Police Officer, a former lawyer and two teachers.

The group are sitting on the pavement around the perimeter of the court from the Juror’s Entrance on Harper Road around and on to Newington Causeway. Each person is holding a sign which says, “Jurors have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience”.

The message might seem innocent enough – it’s a summary of a well-established principle of the British legal system, set in marble at the original entrance to the Old Bailey – but Judge Silas Reid has already ordered the arrests of four people displaying the same message in close proximity to Inner London Crown Court. [3][4][5]

As the group gather around the court building a letter will be delivered to the court addressed to Judge Reid notifying him of their presence outside and explaining why they are there. [6]

Currently those facing trial under Judge Reid’s legal rulings are banned from mentioning the rights of jurors, the importance of morality in the application of British law, and the significance of why previously law-abiding citizens are prepared to risk breaking the law in order to uphold our collective right to survive and to safeguard civil society. [7]

Rev Sue Parfitt, 80, said:

“it is a serious matter indeed if a jury feels unable to make decisions according to their conscience, just as it confounds the basis for the law in this land, when defendants are prevented from telling the whole truth in court, both rights must be defended.”

Matt Hutchings KC a Barrister from London said in support today; 

“Our country is in crisis. The root cause is a clash between a government and media bosses who are acting at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, and our citizens, ordinary people who are calling for a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels to green and clean energy. 

When people are charged with offences which they committed because of their sincere beliefs about the climate crisis, the jury should be allowed to hear evidence about these beliefs. It is not right that juries are prevented by judicial directions from hearing the truth about why the defendants are in the dock.    

“The eminent judge Sir Patrick Devlin wrote in his book ‘Trial by Jury’ that juries were ‘an insurance that the criminal law will conform to the ordinary man’s idea of what is fair and just’. At a time when our democratic values and institutions are under attack, it is vital that we defend one of our sacred democratic principles: the independence of juries.”

Melinda Janki, Guyana-based lawyer, and winner of the Commonwealth Rule of Law prize, 2023 said in support today; 

“For decades ExxonMobil suppressed evidence that burning fossil fuels would destroy the global climate system. Today we in the Global South are living with the impacts. People are dying. Animals are dying. It is unconscionable and contrary to the rule of law for any judge to seek to suppress evidence of the destructive impacts of fossil fuels.”

Rabbi Jeffery Newman from North London said in support today; 

“Intention is an ancient concept, fundamental in Jewish & British law, for example in distinguishing between murder and manslaughter. It seems to me, therefore, that we cannot disregard motivation when we come to look at actions and consequences in other contexts. 

“As a Jew, and a rabbi – that is, a Jewish teacher – I have had to think very carefully about issues of obedience to the law and where and when a state may enact laws that a citizen, after careful and honest consideration, decides cannot and should not be obeyed. At such times, courageous protest by posters, placards or leaflet distribution have been prohibited by repressive regimes. Judges have sometimes focussed the attention of juries too narrowly thereby causing much harm. 

“At this time, we must consider with all due wisdom the needs of our planet and all its species and of future generations as we assess the proportionality of protest.”

More quotes

Legal outcomes for those engaged in nonviolent civil resistance are becoming increasingly polarised, leading to claims of a “justice lottery”. On the one hand, there has been a pattern of jury acquittals, when defendants have been permitted to explain the motivations in court [8][9][10]; earlier this year, a Judge spoke out by telling members of Just Stop Oil he was “moved” by their actions; and in March,170 leading lawyers declared they would refuse to prosecute members of nonviolent climate movements. [11][12]

On the other, peaceful campaigners are now being arrested just for holding signs, have been banned from presenting their motivations to the jury, and in a recent case imprisoned for 3 years (more than the starting point sentence for a serious sexual assault). [13]

In April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to the British Government to express alarm at the Public Order Act and the repression of campaigners:

“As the world faces the triple planetary crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution, governments should be protecting and facilitating peaceful protests on such existential topics, not hindering and blocking them.” [14]

The show of peaceful resistance at Inner London Crown Court comes just days after yet more evidence of escalating climate breakdown leading to societal collapse: deadly wildfires in Siberia, flash-floods in Somerset, and floods which have left hundreds dead in the Congo. [15][16][17]


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Notes to Editors

[1] David Nixon jailed: 

[2] Amy Pritchard and Giovanna Lewis jailed: 

[3] Principle of Jury Nullification: 

[4] Trudi Warner arrested: 

[5] Cathy Eastburn, Sally Davidson and Oliver Rock arrested:

[6] Letter notifying Judge Reid:

[7] “Protestors must be allowed to explain motives in court” Times article

[8] Extinction Rebellion acquittals:

[9] Burning Pink Group acquittal:

[10] Insulate Britain supporters aquittals: and 

[11] Judge ‘moved’: 

[12] Lawyer’s Declaration: 

[13] Just Stop Oil Supporters jailed for 3 years: 

[14] UN High Commissioner writes to UK Government: 

[15] Siberia wildfires: 

[16] Somerset floods:

[17] Deadly floods in Congo: