Magistrates rule Extinction Rebellion protestor has ‘lawful excuse’ for criminal damage due to climate emergency

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  • Extinction Rebellion protestor acquitted of criminal damage
  • Magistrates ruled she had a lawful excuse due to the direct and immediate threat of climate breakdown
  • Lawyers urge the judiciary to reconsider other Extinction Rebellion cases

An Extinction Rebellion protester has been acquitted of criminal damage for spray-painting the headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council last December.  

Angela Ditchfield, 41, was found not guilty on Wednesday by Cambridge Magistrate’s Court which ruled she had acted in order to protect homes and land from the effects of climate breakdown. 

Angela, also a member of Christian Climate Action, admitted that she had applied the spray-paint, but pleaded not guilty on the grounds of having a lawful excuse to do so. In cases of minor criminal damage, acting to prevent immediate damage to property can be counted as a lawful excuse. 

The lay bench at Cambridge Magistrate’s Court gave the following verdict:

“We find that you have a very strong and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency, and that you acted on the spur of moment to protect land and homes under threat from climate change, believing that immediate protection was necessary, and the action could be said to have been taken to protect property, and that you believed action chosen was reasonable in all circumstances…We find you not guilty.”

While the ruling, coming as it does from a magistrates court, cannot set a legal precedent, it was nonetheless hailed a ‘wake up call to the judiciary” by solicitor Raj Chada, who acts on behalf of many Extinction Rebellion defendants. 

Raj Chada of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors said:

“This is a wake up call to the judiciary as a whole to evaluate all the Extinction Rebellion cases going through the courts and to look at the evidence being brought forward about the impending climate crisis.”

During the case, Angela gave evidence that she had, for many years, attempted to persuade her local council to act to prevent climate chaos by standing for the Green Party, and arranging meetings, petitions and letters. However, Cambridgeshire County Council’s 550 page business plan for 2018-19 did not contain a single reference to the climate. 

Angela said

“Contributing to climate change as we all do, amounts to criminal damage to the whole web of life on earth, and violence against its poorest people. 

I’m happy to have had the chance to expose in court some of our local councils’ roles in that – from threats to build homes on my local park St Albans, to investments in fossil fuels and not making public transport affordable.

I’ve tried all the democratic means and they weren’t achieving enough alone. We need more people using civil disobedience to force all levels of government to take the need for climate justice seriously.”

Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer in Extinction Rebellion’s legal strategy team said:

“The climate and ecological crisis has already begun. While those in the Global South are worst affected by these changes they pose an immediate threat here in the UK as well. It’s not too late to act but we must do so now.

“This important judgment recognises the direct threat of climate change to property and people and concedes that direct action like this may be justified to avert the greater damage that climate change promises. We hope other courts take note.”


For more information contact Zoe Blackler on 07918 165 046. 

Notes

Email: press@risingup.org.uk

Phone: +44(0)7969083371 / +44 7979971209 / +44(0)7479234522

[1]https://rebellion.earth/declaration/https://rebellion.earth/2018/10/31/over-1000-people-block-parliament-sq-to-launch-mass-civil-disobedience-campaign-demanding-action-on-climate-emergency/

[2] https://rebellion.earth/declaration/

[3]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/30/climate-crisis-affects-how-majority-will-vote-in-uk-election-poll

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48964736

[5]https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3082842/ministers-reject-ccc-demands-to-include-aviation-and-shipping-into-climate-targets 

About Extinction Rebellion

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What Emergency?Extinction Rebellion in Numbers|This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook 

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About Rising Up!

Extinction Rebellion emerged from the Rising Up! network, which promotes a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. Change needs to be nurtured in a culture of reverence, gratitude and inclusion while the tools of civil disobedience and direct action are used to express our collective power.

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