Prosecuting hundreds of climate change protesters ‘beggars belief’

Courts are being prepared to deal with hundreds of climate change protesters in action that a lawyer says “beggars belief”.

Two courtrooms are being set aside for a day each week at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for 19 weeks to deal with Extinction Rebellion protesters.

More than 1,000 activists were arrested over the protest action that brought parts of central London to a standstill in April, and so far 232 files of evidence have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The Extinction Rebellion protest in Marble Arch, London, in April
The Extinction Rebellion protest in Marble Arch, London, in April

The Metropolitan Police said in May that they would push for all the 1,130 people arrested, including Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott, to face charges.

The Extinction Rebellion group’s tactics included asking volunteers to deliberately get arrested to cause maximum disruption at roadblocks on Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, while others glued themselves to trains and buildings.

Solicitor Raj Chada, from Hodge Jones and Allen, which represents around 300 of the protesters, said the prosecutions are a waste of money.

In a statement to PA, he said: “To prosecute 1,000 people for peaceful protests beggars belief.

“At a time when more and more violent crimes aren’t being prosecuted the CPS has decided to waste taxpayers’s money by dragging all of those arrested from Extinction Rebellion in front of the courts.

“Figures show that around nine per cent of crimes in the UK lead to a criminal charge, yet when it comes to peaceful protesters they are trying to charge 100 per cent.

“The simple fact is that most of those protesters will get nothing more than a conditional discharge or fine.

“How can this amount of court time and money be wasted on this? The priority should be to tackle the climate crisis that threatens us rather than the prosecution of peaceful protesters.”

Official figures for 2018 showed that 443,000 recorded crimes out of 4.6 million resulted in a criminal charge or summons in England and Wales, a proportion of around 9.6%.

A CPS spokesman said: “We have received 232 files of evidence from the Metropolitan Police relating to the Extinction Rebellion protests in April.

“The CPS is a demand-led organisation and we must review each case referred to us by the police.

“The role of the CPS is to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and if it is in the public interest to do so on the merits of each case.”

It is understood that most of the 232 cases under consideration involve an alleged failure to comply with an order for protesters to stick to an allocated area near Marble Arch to minimise disruption.