Prosecutors review Extinction Rebellion cases as third protester in three days has conviction quashed

Activist says the ‘right to protest is being honoured’ by courts as more appeals loom

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 05 August 2021 13:48 BST
Extinction Rebellion protesters outside the Ministry of Justice in October
Extinction Rebellion protesters outside the Ministry of Justice in October (PA)

Prosecutors are reviewing numerous Extinction Rebellion cases after a third protester in as many days had their conviction quashed.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped its opposition to the activists’ appeals against their convictions for obstructing roads in different demonstrations.

At least four more appeals are due to be heard over the coming days at London’s Old Bailey, while similar cases are ongoing at other courts.

The latest demonstrator to have her conviction quashed was 23-year-old Amelia Halls, from Stamford in Lincolnshire.

She was originally convicted of highway obstruction over a protest at City of London Airport in October 2019 and given a conditional discharge with £400 costs.

Alex Slater, for the CPS, said it would no longer be resisting her appeal against conviction and sentence.

He told the Old Bailey the decision was sparked by a Supreme Court ruling that demonstrators can have a “reasonable excuse” for blocking roads under human rights laws.

“There is a case-by-case review of appeals listed over the coming weeks,” he added.

Judge Mark Dennis QC, sitting with two magistrates, formally quashed Ms Slater’s conviction and said any money paid would be returned.

He told the court he expected the “same issue to rise” in upcoming appeals and asked the CPS to make a decision on whether it would continue to oppose them by next Wednesday.

Judge Dennis previously warned of a “fundamental problem” in Extinction Rebellion appeals and urged the CPS to review all the remaining cases where the main issue was “lawful excuse”.

He said prosecutors had not “grasped” the effect of a Supreme Court ruling or the “basic human rights point that has been there for a very long time”.

Ms Halls said the finding was a “huge relief”, adding: “It’s showing that what we are doing [with Extinction Rebellion protests] is beginning to be seen as proportionate.”

Extinction Rebellion protesters block roads across UK

She said it was “frustrating” that protesters were having to go through a “drawn-out” appeals process to have their convictions overturned.

“In the magistrates’ courts there seems to be this desire to convict without fully engaging with what’s going on, but in the appeals they are looking in more detail,” she added.

“It’s really showing that our right to protest is being honoured with these obstruction cases.”

On Wednesday, the CPS presented no evidence against 65-year-old Robert MacQueen, who was appealing against a highway obstruction conviction for an October 2019 protest in London.

On Tuesday, Judge Dennis also quashed the conviction of Emma-Rose Goodwin, 47, from Exeter, when the CPS again offered no evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled that protests can be a “lawful excuse” to block roads in June, following the acquittal of protesters who blockaded a London arms fair in 2017.

Its ruling said that protesters can have a “lawful excuse” defence against the offence of obstructing a highway, even where they have used “deliberately physically obstructive conduct”.

“There must be an assessment of the facts in each individual case to determine whether the interference with article 10 or article 11 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] was ‘necessary in a democratic society’,” he added.

The ruling, which is binding on all courts, means that protesters cannot be convicted of blocking roads if their rights to protest outweigh any disruption or interference with the rights of others.

It caused the trial of Extinction Rebellion activists who blockaded a Rupert Murdoch-owned printworks to be paused, but a judge convicted them last month after finding there was “not a fair balance between the rights of the defendants to protest and and the rights of the business to operate”.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We have a duty of continuous review of our cases which includes cases which have already been charged or are at the appeal stage. This enables us to take account of any change in circumstances or legal rulings”.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in