Stanley's blog

Might the law be an ass?

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.

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  1. It is called the legal defence usually known as necessity found in COMMON LAW LEGAL SYSTEMS (UK, US, CANADA, AUSTRALIA) Let me put it a better way you’ve got a friend in your car who will die unless get to the hospital immediately. While getting there you drive through a red light and subsequently are charged and taken to court. Isn’t it fair that you should be able to claim that your actions were necessary in order to prevent a greater harm taking place i.e. the death of your friend?
    Lets remind ourselves of the facts- the activists believed that ITT owned -EDO MBM, was breaking export regulations by manufacturing and selling to the Israelis military equipment which would be used in the occupied territories. They wanted to slow down the manufacture of these components, and impede what they believed were war crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

    Oh and for those you argue that decision also mean that the UK is sanctioning antisemitism please read Anthony Sampson’s book The Sovereign State of ITT,. It alleges that one of the first American businessmen Hitler received after taking power in 1933 was Sosthnes Behn, then the CEO of ITT and his German representative, Henry Mann

    Another author Antony C. Sutton, in his book Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, makes the claim that ITT subsidiaries made cash payments to SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

    ITT, through its subsidiary The Lorenz Company, owned 25% of Focke-Wulf, the German aircraft manufacturer, builder of some of the most successful Luftwaffe fighter aircraft. In the 1960s, ITT Corporation won $27 million in compensation for damage inflicted on its share of the Focke-Wulf plant by WWII Allied bombing.

    Sutton’s book also uncovered the fact that ITT owned Huth and Company, G.m.b.H. of Berlin, which made radio and radar parts that were used in equipment going to the Wehrmacht.

  2. Tilak Ginige
    You are confusing different issues
    The basis of the lawn criminal damage appears to be as follows: If you misakenly believe your neighbour’s house is on fire and you smash down the front door, it would be inapprpriate that you can be criminally charged.
    The example you cite is apposite.
    However, this is far from a law to protect politically-motivated damage.

  3. Comment continued:

    The GMO justification is easy to understand, but not the power station attack.
    The Brighton result is difficult to comprehend. You have mixed up in your argument Israel, anti-semitism etc
    These are irrelevant
    Judge Bathurst-Norman explained 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.
    How can the facts justify “necessary for the immediate protection” of Gazans?

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