Local residents defend historic role of juries

On Monday 4 December from 9am until 10am, a group of 11 London residents sat outside the Old Bailey holding signs displaying the centuries-old principle of ‘jury equity’.

By Caroline Hartnell

A man in a woolly hat sitting on the pavement holding a sign saying 'Jurors have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience.'
Jonathon Porritt sitting outside the Old Bailey. Photo: Crispin Hughes

On Monday 4 December from 9am until 10am, a group of 11 London residents sat outside the Old Bailey holding signs displaying the centuries-old principle of ‘jury equity’, i.e. the right of all jurors in British courts to acquit a defendant according to their conscience and irrespective of the directions of the judge.

One of those outside the Old Bailey was eminent sustainability writer and campaigner Jonathon Porritt. His latest book, Hope in Hell, is a powerful ‘call to action’ on the climate emergency.

Hundreds took part in similar events outside crown courts around the country. In London there were also demonstrations outside Croydon, Kingston, Snaresbrook, Southwark and Woolwich Crown Courts and the Inner London Crown Court.

By displaying these signs, the group ran the risk of arrest. In September, the Solicitor General announced he would prosecute the 68-year retired social worker, Trudi Warner, for contempt of court for holding a similar sign outside Inner London Crown Court in March. Then in October, two young women were arrested by the MET police for doing the same thing.

Measures being taken by courts to undermine trial by jury include defendants being banned from explaining to the jury why they did what they did. In some cases, people have been sent to prison just for trying to explain their actions to the jury. Defendants are banned from explaining the principle of ‘jury equity’ to the jury, even though it is a well established principle of law, which is literally set in marble at the original entrance to the Old Bailey.

This day of action was part of the growing public campaign Defend Our Juries, which aims to raise awareness of the right of juries to acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, irrespective of a judge’s direction that there is no available defence, and to draw attention to the ways in which trial by jury is being undermined in the context of those taking action to expose government dishonesty and corporate greed.

“Our legal system allows a jury to acquit a defendant if they consider their law-breaking to be morally acceptable or necessary, and we need to remind juries of this right.” Hannah Woodhouse, aged 60, mum of 3, Lambeth resident, one of those holding a sign, explains why she was willing to risk arrest by taking this action.

“For example,” she explains, “a jury can acquit a woman who murders her husband in self-defence after years of abuse. So why are UK judges banning peaceful climate activists from describing their motivations to the jury?  And banning them from using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘cost of living crisis’ in their defence?”

Previously a sculptural lighting designer/company director, Hannah gave up the career she loved 5 years ago to work full time (and unpaid) on trying to get urgent action on climate change.

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