Freedom News

Dartford Bridge appeal rejection bodes ill for new Lord Chief Justice’s reign

The Court of Appeal (CoA) has upheld sentences of 3 years & 2 years and 7 months on two protestors who scaled and sat on the Bridge over the Thames at Dartford in October 2022. Now these are not the heaviest sentences protestors have received recently. Ryan Roberts is doing 14 years for setting fire to bits of cardboard at 2021 Bristol Kill the Bill. But it does mark a significant change in how ‘peaceful protestors’ will be dealt with. In short, the longest sentence confirmed by the CoA has just rocketed from 6 months to 3 years. Here’s how it played out.

There have been prison sentences before for non-violent direct action (NVDA), but the CoA knocked them down to a matter of weeks to be served at worst. When Judge Collery dished out such long terms for sitting on a concrete tower for two days, I naturally consulted friendly legal professionals.

“It’s just that mad judge at Basildon”: Barrister at Garden Court.

When the appeal hearing came around, I sought the opinion of the most pessimistic solicitor I know:
“My bet is 18 months and released today.”

So what’s happened?

Lord Chief Justice Burnett- An Apology.

The LCJ is the highest paid judge in this island: £260k pa and head of the Court of Appeal. They get to choose which cases they sit on and do the ones of the greatest public Importance. There is no appeal against the sentence to the Supreme Court, and while you can “take it to Europe,” the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR) can only say, “Britain’s been naughty again;” not change sentences, and in any case takes years to hear a case. When Ian Burnett got the job in 2017, we had high hopes as he couldn’t possibly be as rabid as his immediate predecessors Igor Judge (sic) and John Thomas (also sic). He started promisingly, rejecting an activist’s extradition to the United States on hacking charges and ruling that the Preston New Road ‘truck surfers’ should have got community service rather than 15 months. Unfortunately, it then went downhill. First, ‘plane gluer’ James Brown’s getting jail time was confirmed albeit reduced from a year to 4 months, then he upheld a government appeal against the trial judge’s ruling in the Colston Statue case. While he couldn’t overturn the jury’s verdict, he’s blocked future defendants using Article 10 ‘Freedom of Expression’ defences in cases of all but trivial criminal damage. He retires in October, and we were hoping he would be demobilisation-happy and not want to use the cane on the last day of term. However, instead, he handed over the reins to his heir apparent as LCJ, Sue Carr.

New Broom sweeps clean.

The CoA sits with 3 judges per case (one can read, one can write, and one keeps an eye on the two intellectuals), but the Chief usually gets their way. Funnily, Burnett was in the minority in the recent Rwanda deportation case, where he voted the wrong way. Lady Carr wrote the Judgement herself, but you can skip the first 89 paragraphs ‘cos the punchline’s in the last two. In the case of Jones (Margaret) in 2006, the House of Lords emphasised that conscientious protestors should be treated leniently. Lady Carr says “new times, new rulez” to that as Parliament has made Public Nuisance a statutory offence and therefore clearly wants people put in the pokey for it. Why Parliament reduced the maximum sentence when it did so, she doesn’t explain. Next, sitting on bridges is inherently worse than sitting on planes, trucks or grand prix tracks (which really is dangerous, but the protestors got suspended sentences). But worst is that deterrent sentences are needed because of the change in protest brought about by the likes of Just Stop Oil. Now if the State brought in draconian punishments in the face of an armed uprising or General Strike, I wouldn’t be surprised, but 3 years for being part of a National Rag Week bodes ill for when someone actually does something.

So very sorry, Ian ‘JudgyMcJudgeface’ Burnett. We should have been grateful for an ‘Old King Log’ because we now have one hell of a New Queen Stork.

~ Andy Meinke

The full judgement can be read here.

Image: Just Stop Oil

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