The Good Law Project announced on 6 April that it is supporting two of three Insulate Britain activists jailed for contempt of court. The lawyers said they would appeal the convictions, in a move that Insulate Britain described as a “huge win for free speech”.
Judge Silas Reid jailed protester David Nixon for contempt of court at the start of February. Nixon was in court at the time for causing a public nuisance. The charge followed his participation in an Insulate Britain roadblock in London on 25 October 2021.
‘We had no defence’
Reid told Nixon and three other defendants at the start of the trial not to use climate change as part of their defence. Defying this order, Nixon raised the climate crisis in his closing speech, saying:
Posters around the court building are saying that we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.
You’ve not been able to hear these truths because this court has not allowed me to say them. Our safety is at risk, our society is at risk.
Nixon told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that public disruption requires giving “an honest account of what we did and why we did it”. As a result, he and fellow climate activists “should be allowed to mention the climate crisis wherever we go”. He added that:
On the back of [the judge’s order], we had no defence.
Nixon admitted the contempt of court charge, and isn’t appealing. However, he said the process revealed:
how ridiculous it is in 2023 that people are getting jailed for mentioning climate change.
Contempt of court for ‘telling the truth’
Amy Pritchard and Giovanna Lewis both faced similar contempt of court charges from Reid in March. The pair had taken part in the same October 2021 action by Insulate Britain as Nixon, but Reid heard them in a separate trial. The judge imposed a similar order not to mention the climate crisis during their trial. But, like Nixon, both spoke out in defiance of the order.
DorsetEcho reported that Reid:
told the defendants they had sought to “set themselves above the law” by mentioning aspects of their motivation in carrying out the October protest that were not relevant to jury deliberations…
He added that:
No side has the advantage of the court determining that their cause is just, or that the law should be bent or broken because of any personal views a judge may or may not have.
Lewis told AFP, however, that she “couldn’t go in the court and be silenced that way”. She added that she “had to tell the truth and take the consequences”, and noted that other activists involved in similar cases explained their motives in their trials and were acquitted.
OpenDemocracy said the pair escaped conviction for the public nuisance charges. However, the judge sentenced them to seven weeks for contempt of court and they served three and a half. According to human rights lawyer Jodie Blackstock, Reid denied Pritchard and Lewis “the right to a fair trial” and an “effective defence”.
Fundraising for appeals
The Good Law Project is now fundraising to appeal Pritchard and Lewis’ convictions. It denounced the:
disturbing decisions that silence climate protesters and undermine the crucial role both protest and jury trial play in upholding our democracy.
On 31 March, Reid found another Insulate Britain activist guilty of “public nuisance”. They also ignored the judge’s order. This time, however, he did not hold them in contempt. Insulate Britain applauded a “huge win for free speech”. Spokesperson Cameron Ford added:
Whatever the reason, we are very glad that today judge Reid has come to his senses and put an end to his campaign of jailing people for speaking the whole truth in UK courtroom
However, Insulate Britain supporter Trudi Warner also faces a contempt of court charge. Trudi Warner held a sign outside the trial of Insulate Britain activists saying jurors have an “absolute right” to acquit people based on their conscience. Warner’s case was escalated to the Attorney General on 4 April.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
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