Over the last three years, more than two thousand Extinction Rebellion protesters have been prosecuted, mostly in the magistrates courts for minor offences, typically sitting in the road and refusing to move. A handful of cases, with charges carrying more serious penalties, have been escalated to the crown courts to be heard before a jury. Seven Extinction Rebellion crown court trials have now concluded and a clear trend has emerged. Juries are extremely reluctant to convict climate protesters even when they have no defence in law.
Since last September, Monday to Friday, City of London Magistrates’ Court has been filled by Extinction Rebellion defendants from around the country. XR court supporters are on hand with vegan snacks, hugs and advice, within limits. We’re not legally trained but we’re learning, recording arguments and outcomes, watching for patterns. It’s gumming up the system: the trials, single or in batches, may occupy all three courtrooms all day. At the end, the district judge typically commends the defendants for their high-minded unselfishness (a pleasant change, one said, from the usual lot), expresses personal sympathy with their concerns – and finds them guilty as charged.