January 14, 2014 by combehavendefenders
This time, the vital three elements – court, judge and prosecutor – managed to coincide, and the trial was at last heard. Emily had already been found not guilty of aggravated trespass, on the grounds that she had not been aggravating (or, as the law would have it, had not obstructed, disrupted or intimidated anyone).
Failing to leave – even if you’re not committing an offence
However, she was also charged with failing to leave after being given an order to do so under Section 69 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. In law, if a police officer ‘reasonably believes’ that you are committing aggravated trespass, s/he can order you to leave, and if you fail to do so, you can be convicted of an offence – never mind that it subsequently turns out that you weren’t committing aggravated trespass, and the police should not have issued the order to leave.
Lack of transparency
In her evidence, Emily described the lack of transparency around the decision to fund the Link Road, and how that led to Operation Disclosure. She said that she was not at the Department for Transport (DfT) to obstruct or disrupt anyone’s work, but to support the DfT staff in their work, and to encourage them to release the document with the recommendations to the concerned citizens waiting outside. She described the event as light and good humoured.
Not guilty, but guilty
That was not enough, however, to persuade the judge, who decided that the senior police officer’s belief- that Emily had been committing aggravated trespass – was reasonable (never mind that the court had already ruled that she was not guilty of aggravated trespass) and that therefore she was guilty of the offence of failing to leave.
However, in a moral victory for the campaign, Emily was given only an 18 month conditional discharge (the maximum penalty for this offence is a £2,500 fine and three months’ imprisonment). The prosecutor, who had appeared to be largely comatose for most of the trial, got to his feet and half-heartedly asked the judge to impose £400 of court costs. The judge – no doubt mindful of the fact that Emily had had to appear three times for a trial which should have taken one day – declined to impose any costs, and instead ordered that the Crown Prosecution Service be ordered to pay costs to Emily for the wasted trip to London on the last occasion, when the prosecutor was AWOL.
Before he sentenced her, the judge asked Emily if she had anything to say. She made a brief but eloquent statement, saying that her actions were the right thing to do, as calling government to account can be the higher law. She said we all have a duty to demand transparency in government, and that policing shouldn’t be used to manage politics, but for criminal activity. Indeed.