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A crackdown on protest – why not?

Posted by Richard D North in Campaigning / Food / Green / Politics / Rights on 31 December 2008

Why we posted this: The idea that protest is almost always good and being strict with it almost always bad is not necessarily sensible. So why shouldn’t the UK government consider blocking a legal loophole used by lawyers and juries to let protesters off?

The original story:
“Legal move to crack down on climate protesters”
Afua Hirsch and John Vidal
The Guardian
18 December 2008

Summary of the stories:
The Guardian has got wind of moves by the UK government’s Attorney General to challenge the legal loophole” (“lawful excuse”) whereby people charged with criminal damage can assert that their admitted acts were damaging but not criminal because they were designed to avoid a greater damage. Thus, you can kick down the door of a neighbour’s house if it is on fire. Likewise, lawyers are arguing with great success, that protesters are invading military airfields, trashing trials of genetically modified crops and damaging power station chimneys so as to head off the greater damage of war or environmental damage. Judges and juries have mostly accepted the argument.

livingissues comment:
There is great merit in protest but there need to be limits especially when the protest is against activity which has been thoroughly debated and democratically agreed. There is no obvious parity between the modern use of the “lawful excuse” argument and the circumstances which originally spawned it.

The difficulty looks like being this: there is a superficial attractiveness in the “lawful excuse” argument and confronting it will perhaps require a deliberate change in the law. The A-G may lose his appeal to a higher court. That would only leave a Parliamentary decision – an overt display of will by the government which might be unpopular.

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