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Greenpeace guilty of criminal disingenuousness?

Posted by Paul Seaman in Campaigning / Green / Media / Rights / Society / Truth & Trust on 11 September 2008

Why we posted this: Greenpeace have again exploited a legal loophole which makes it impossible to curtail their “right” to damage property.

The original story:
Not guilty: the Greenpeace activists who used climate change as a legal defence
John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian, 
11 September 2008

The story in brief
Six Greenpeace activists have been cleared of causing criminal damage during protest over coal-fired power. The activists were charged with causing £30,000 of damage after they scaled Kingsnorth power station in Hoo, Kent.

One of the cleared activists described the verdict as “a tipping point for the climate change movement”.

He said: “When 12 normal people say it is legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet then where does that leave government energy policy?”

This, as the Guardian usefully points out, follows a spate of other such cases in which activists  - with diverse causes – were cleared of what would normally be classified as illegal acts.

livingissues comment:
Nobody wants to take away the right of defendants to claim that an illegal act had a lawful excuse. However the question is, is that right and the interpretation of what constitutes a lawful cause being abused? There is a strong argument to be made that is precisely what is happening. Take the latest case of the six Greenpeace protesters.

They caused damage worth £30 000.  Their aim, they said, was to prevent damaging emissions that cause global warming. The plant’s owner claimed lives were put at risk, and there was no dispute between the parties that costly damage was caused to a chimney stack.  In normal circumstances a guilty verdict was inevitable.  The sentence might well have – and should have – reflected that the protesters were not mindless vandals and had no real criminal intent in the normal sense of the term.

In contrast, the logical consequence of this verdict is that other protesters can take the law into their own hands with relative impunity to occupy, disrupt and damage any facility that legally emits global warming gases. That represents a challenge to democracy. It is an outcome that must be interrogated closely.

If, as the protesters claimed, they were saving the planet and that this one coal-fired power station alone threatened the existence of 400 species, then they should be able to persuade the public to force lawmakers to change the law. But their protest suggests that they are not so confident of their arguments.  Otherwise why take the law into their own hands? In the words of the coal-fired spokesperson: “That’s a debate that shouldn’t be taking place at the top of a chimney stack.” Moreover, it is not for juries to help protesters circumvent the democratic process.  

Given the frequency of such cases there is a case to had for strengthening and clarifying the legal definition of what constitutes a lawful cause to break the law.

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