On Friday 10 February 2023, four Scientists for Extinction Rebellion (XR) appeared before Southwark Crown Court, where their convictions for causing criminal damage to the government Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) building were quashed. Bindmans LLP acted for one of the appellants, Pete Knapp.
Mr Knapp took part in a peaceful and non-violent action alongside 20 other scientists (eight of whom were also arrested) in April 2022. As a group, collectively known as ‘Scientists for XR’, they pasted scientific papers to the windows of the government BEIS building to draw attention to the latest climate science, and highlight the impact of the government’s current climate policies. They also glued themselves to the windows of the BEIS building and used water-soluble chalk spray as part of their protest.
Bindmans has acted for five of the nine protestors since they were initially arrested and detained in the police station for close to 24 hours in April 2022.
At their first appearance in the Magistrates’ Court, the protestors were split into two groups for trial. All protestors were charged with the same offence, arising from the same set of circumstances. There was no grouping of defendants together on the basis of their role, degree of pre-planning or culpability. The split was arbitrary. The first trial eventually concluded on 21 October when all five protestors were acquitted.
Mr Knapp and his co-defendants also appeared before City of London Magistrates’ Court separately on 1 September 2022, where they were convicted of criminal damage. Following this, Bindmans lodged a notice of appeal on Mr Knapp’s behalf, accompanied by the first of four detailed letters of representations seeking the CPS’ agreement not to contest Mr Knapp’s appeal. Unfortunately, the CPS failed to respond to our latest three letters of representations.
Mr Knapp’s case proceeded to a contested appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court on 9 and 10 February 2023, in which we argued that the prosecution had no case to answer. Arguments were advanced that no damage had been caused and that, in any event, prosecution and conviction would be a disproportionate interference with Mr Knapp’s rights under Articles 10 and 11 European Convention Human Rights. HHJ Rimmer and the lay bench agreed with our submissions, and Mr Knapp’s appeal was allowed.
Following the quashing of his conviction on Friday, Mr Knapp said:
The fossil fuel air pollution that covers the windows of BEIS remains unchallenged, but spraying chalk over it in a protest to reduce fossil fuel pollution led to a year of defence in the Magistrates and Crown Courts. Today, the courts have championed protecting life and peaceful protest over prosecuting chalk spray on a window.
Solicitor at Bindmans representing Mr Knapp, Hester Cavaciuti, said:
This prosecution should never have taken place, let alone proceed to a two-day appeal hearing in the Crown Court. The Court of Appeal has made it very clear that, in cases of peaceful protest and where damage is trivial or minimal, the CPS should consider very carefully whether it is in the public interest to prosecute when such a prosecution potentially interferes with an individual’s human rights. We made multiple representations to the CPS that they should rethink their decision to contest Mr Knapp’s appeal, however, they insisted on defending their position until the very end.
The government is in the process of curtailing important protest rights which are a cornerstone of a democracy. This case shows that despite the government’s attempts to curtail freedom of speech and criminalise protests, the courts are still prepared to protect the right to protest, and will act proportionately when dealing with peaceful protestors that should never have been prosecuted by the CPS in the first place.
Mr Knapp was represented by Hester Cavaciuti, Ruaa Kamaran and Kate Goold of Bindmans LLP, together with Robbie Stern from Matrix Chambers. Hodge Jones and Allen, together with Rosalind Comyn of Matrix Chambers, acted for Mr Knapp’s co-appellants.