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24 October 2022

Acquittal of five Scientists for Extinction Rebellion

5 mins

On Friday 21 October 2022, five Scientists for Extinction Rebellion were acquitted at Westminster Magistrates Court of causing criminal damage to the government Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) building. Four of the five were represented by Bindmans LLP.

Bindmans clients, Dr Stuart Capstick, Dr Abi Perrin, Dr Aaron Thierry and Dr Caroline Vincent took part in a peaceful and non-violent action alongside 20 other scientists (five of whom were also arrested), back 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.

Image provided by Vladimir Morozov

Dr Abi Perrin said:

In April I watched the secretary general of the UN summarise the latest climate science, stating that our current energy policies put us on a ‘fast track towards an unliveable world’. Days later the UK government released its energy strategy, announcing measures that accelerate climate and environmental breakdown. When governments ignore the warnings of the world’s scientists and even their own climate pledges, it’s hard not to feel desperate. I took part in this peaceful and non-destructive protest action in the hope that it would help raise the alarm about policies that exacerbate the loss, suffering and violence already being experienced around the world.

Dr Stuart Capstick said:

The rush for new oil and gas being enabled by the UK government is completely at odds with what the scientific research is telling us needs to happen. The consequences of ignoring that science will be devastating climate impacts that threaten the lives and wellbeing of people around the world. Under normal circumstances, the last thing I would want to do is glue myself to a window, be arrested and put on trial. Unfortunately, this type of action seems to be one of the few ways left to draw attention to the urgency and scale of action needed to tackle the climate crisis.

Arguments were advanced in court, on behalf of the scientists, that it was necessary for the magistrates to conduct a case-specific assessment when deciding whether a conviction was a proportionate response to their actions especially when, as in this case, the alleged damage was both minor and temporary in nature. This argument followed the recent Court of Appeal judgment in the Attorney General’s Reference (No 1 of 2022) [2022] EWCA Crim 1259 where the Court was asked to clarify the law in some protest cases.

The magistrates agreed with the submissions, finding that there was no case to answer, and all five Scientists for XR were acquitted.

Following her acquittal on Friday, Dr Caroline Vincent said:

With a raft of oppressive laws against legitimate protests being adopted in the UK, it is becoming more and more difficult for the voice of reason to be heard. The government would rather prosecute scientists and suppress legitimate protests than act on the advice they receive from scientists and their own advisors. But today, the magistrates acknowledged that we were expressing our right to protest, which should be the cornerstone of any democracy.

Dr Aaron Thierry commented:

It’s a massive relief to me that the Court recognised the proportionality of our protest. I am extremely grateful to all those who assisted us in taking this to court, especially those who contributed to our crowd funding campaign, and the excellent legal advice that we received from our lawyers at Bindmans LLP.

Hester Cavaciuti, solicitor for four of the five Scientists for XR who appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday said:

This prosecution should never have taken place. We made representations to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to pursue this matter,  but they insisted on doing so. The Court of Appeal 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. The CPS appeared to disregard this, but fortunately, the Magistrates Court took a different view.   

The government is in the process of curtailing important protest rights which are a cornerstone of a democracy. This risks undermining the ability to bring to the attention of the public concerns with government policies. 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.

Bindmans have acted on behalf of the protestors since they were initially arrested and detained for a period of close to 24 hours back in April 2022. The firm continues to act for one further Scientist for XR who was found guilty of criminal damage, arising from the same action, at City of London Magistrates’ Court in September, and has made an application to appeal.

Bindmans LLP’s clients were represented by Hester Cavaciuti and Ruaa Kamaran of Bindmans LLP, together with Tim James-Matthews from Matrix Chambers.

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