July 22, 2010
Seven individuals smashed up a Brighton factory owned by ITT of the US, at a cost of £187 000 and were recently found not guilty. In 2008, six Greenpeace members were acquitted of causing £30 000 damage to a power station owned by the German Eon energy group. In 2000, 28 Greenpeace members were found not guilty of destroying a field of genetically modified maize. In all three cases, the facts were not in dispute.
The defences? In 2000, because the activists believed that the GM maize could contaminate neighbouring crops. In 2008, because they objected to plans to build a coal-powered generating plant on the site. In 2010, because the factory supplied arms to Israel.
These judgments apparently make no sense – until they are looked at in strictly legal terms. The defence was always that the accused had a lawful excuse to the charge of conspiracy to cause criminal damage , as it was necessary to protect a third party’s property, in the latest case that of he Gazans.
However, the law according to the Judge Bathurst-Norman in the Brighton case, is that it is a defence to a charge of criminal damage if he or she honestly believed that the damage was necessary for the immediate protection of a third person’s property.
This would appear to be a licence to for animal right campaigners, anti-GMO activists and many other extremist groups to act in a way that the majority surely see as unlawful. And companies engaged in politically contentious activities have no remedy if activists damage their premises.
Judge Bathurst-Norman sees the case as confirming the democratic principle to stand up for what individuals believe to be right. But democracy involves majority rule by an elected government with proper protection for the minority. It is not an invitation to take the law into one’s own hands which, carried to access, will lead to anarchy.
The Financial Times drew attention to this perverse English judgment. Let’s hope that the government and the legal profession do not allow the matter to rest as it is.Author : Stanley Crossick