Resounding victory for environmental protesters

Friday 14 March 2014

Following a complex 13-day trial at Brighton Magistrates' Court which commenced in September 2013, DJ Crabtree acquitted all six defendants of aggravated trespass on 12 March 2014. The defendants were represented by Shahida Begum, Ali Bandegani, and Maria Moodie of Garden Court Chambers and Maryam Mir of Doughty Street Chambers.

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The six defendants were charged with aggravated trespass contrary to s.68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It was alleged that their peaceful protest against the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road caused obstruction and disruption to tree-felling and site clearance work by the contractors of East Sussex County Council.In acquitting the defendants (in a judgment running to 100 pages), DJ Crabtree found that four of them lacked the necessary intention to obstruct and disrupt. Furthermore, the two other defendants' continued occupation of a tree did not constitute an overt and distinct act capable of satisfying the requisite elements of s.68.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="350"] Five of the protesters outside court[/caption]

In his judgment, DJ Crabtree made the following notable comment:

"I would also observe that this case was far more complicated than most because of issues deriving from the CPO [Compulsory Purchase Order] and the CPA 1965. I have not, I hope, criticised the police as they had difficult balancing act to perform in facilitating the right to protest and preventing crime, and I am sure went about that with considerable thought. But one point that may deserve more attention in the future is reflected in the following remarks of LJ Laws in Barnard: "No doubt, where such cases arise in the future, the information will be properly particularised to start with". That is important in fairness to the defendants and equally it is important to enable focussed case management. In this case, it was not until Mr Edwards for the Crown sought to provide greater clarity to the charges, some 8 - 9 months after first appearance, that the current informations were placed before the court. Even then it will be evident that they were not without problems - and that is without considering the adequacy of the pleading used to describe the 'lawful activity' (that is no more than 'namely the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road'...) when the reality was that the lawful activity was advance site clearance of the plot, including felling of trees, to facilitate construction of that road. In the end of course, this was a case which, while arguably more complicated than Bauer, Barnard and Peppersharp [2012] EWHC 474 (Admin) was quantifiably less serious in terms of the disruption, obstruction (and intimidation) caused. As I have said, I have heard no evidence whatsoever that it impacted on the tight schedule [for the road construction]."

The case has been reported widely in the media, including by the BBC and Brighton and Hove News.

Ali Bandegani, Shahida Begum, and Maria Moodie are all members of Garden Court Chambers.

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