Dover sentencing and anti-fascist organising


LAF doverThe Dover demonstration in January was the most violent anti-fascist action
in Britain for many years. 70 people have been arrested and more are being
searched for. See appeals on Kent Police site for details.

So far there have been 15 concluded cases. 10 people have received
custodial sentences totalling 209 months. 7 People have been sentenced for
violent disorder (s2 public order act 1986) and received between 2 years
and 10 months. The good news is only two of these are anti-fascists and one
of them has had their sentence suspended on appeal.

Bear in mind the sentence is not how long you will spend in jail. This is
normally half the nominal sentence unless you commit offences against
prison discipline while inside and you may be eligible for early release on
Home Detention Curfew (tag).

Any counter demonstration to a fascist march like in Dover is likely to
lead to physical confrontation. The extent being largely determined by the
numbers and organisation of the policing. Compare Dover (Kent 400 cops)
with the March for England in Brighton in 2014 (1050 cops). Anyone who goes
on these demos may become involved and if identified and found they are
likely to be prosecuted for public order offences regardless of whether
they instigated the violence. Since the only alternative to fighting back
is being beaten to a pulp, and your friends too, we take a look at your
legal options if you end up in court.

What you will be charged with

The public order act 1986 creates a series of offences ranging from Riot
(maximum 10 years) to causing harassment alarm or distress (maximum a fine)

Here’s the CPS guidelines on what to charge:

http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/public_order_offences/

In practice anything that involves throwing heavy objects or using weapons
like sticks tends to be charged as violent disorder (maximum 5 years). No
one has to be injured for violent disorder, just 3 or more people using or
threatening violence such as would make a person of reasonable firmness
fear for their safety. The seriousness of the offence depends in part on
what you do but also on what is happening in total. This is the offence
we’ll consider in detail.

Facing a violent disorder charge carries a high risk of imprisonment. If
convicted you have statistically a three in four chance of immediate
custody with the other possibility being a suspended sentence and, very
rarely, community service.

We strongly advise everyone going on an anti-fascist march/demo to think
about the possibilities in advance and plan what they will do in various
circumstances.

A. Going guilty – pros and cons

Plea bargaining.

It may be possible to persuade the CPS to accept a guilty plea to a lesser
offence. This is a far better option than a simple admission and therefore
harder to come by. But check carefully with your lawyer what you’re
pleading to and its implications for your future.

Goodyear indications

This is where you ask the judge what sentence you will get if you plead
guilty and can then decide whether to do so. The downside is that if you
refuse the deal the same judge will preside over your trial knowing you
tried to cut a deal and won’t give you as light a sentence if you’re found
guilty.

Reduction for guilty plea

A guilty plea at the first opportunity should reduce your sentence by 33%.
A sliding scale applies until pleading “at the court door” when the trial
is about to start gets 10% off. In practice it’s not so clear cut. Judges
can be creative with discounts to arrive at the sentence they want and
there are no sentencing council guidelines for violent disorder. The most
important case law comes from the August 2011 riots.
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2011/2312.html In 2012, 78% of
people pleading guilty got immediate custody with an average of 19.3
months, while of those convicted after trial 74% went directly to jail for
an average sentence of 23.6 months.

Mitigation

If you plead guilty you are likely to be given a pre-sentence report by
Probation. You can call character witnesses and your barrister will make a
speech on your behalf saying what a “Citizen” you are in normal life and
this was a “moment of madness”. The Judge will smile inwardly at this
familiar routine. To make any real impression at this point you need to
have really exceptional circumstances.

B. Fighting the caseLAF dover 2

Step one is to get a good legal team. Most criminal lawyers are experienced
in helping guilty clients get the best deal they can. Frankly most of their
clients are guilty (at least in law) and they approach cases with that in
mind. You need specialists in protest law. Very few solicitors or
barristers have experience of fighting protest cases, especially overtly
political ones. Look at the Netpol recommended lawyers list, talk to your
local legal support group and always have a lawyer in mind for where the
demonstration is going to be. Tell your friends who you will be using and
when you talk to your solicitor tell them to pass on information to your
friends and support group

Defences

There are three principle lines of defence: 1.“I wasn’t there”, 2.“I didn’t
do it” & 3.“They started it, Miss!”

1. If you are not arrested at the scene it may be a question of whether it
is actually you. The best defence is an cast iron alibi. However, all
identity evidence is notoriously unreliable and juries are warned by the
judge to be very careful because of many previous miscarriages of justice.

2. The factual evidence will come from film footage and police statements.
Film cannot show all aspects of a case and the police will inevitably
exaggerate what you did. It is very important that the people you are with
can act as witnesses and write up what happened as soon as possible after
the incident. Get any injuries recorded and identify anyone who has footage
or photos that can contradict the police case.

3. You are entitled to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances
to defend yourself and other people, prevent crime or prevent/quell a
breach of the peace. You do not have to retreat and you may strike the
first blow if you believe you are about to be attacked. You are allowed
some leeway in what you do, as you cannot be expected to “weigh to a
nicety” the level of force needed. Also the “circumstances” are those that
you honestly believe them to be. What you can’t do is act in retaliation or
to punish.

What’s the chances?

Statistics don’t give us much of a guide as the number of anti-fascist
protest cases is too small a sample, but from protest cases over the years
it’s better than 50/50 in front of a jury and anecdotally easier to get off
if the “victims” are Fash rather than the police. You are essentially
putting yourself in the lap of a jury, but there are some trends we can
point out.

Juries are selected randomly but are composed from the area nearby. Juries
composed of city-dwelling working class and ethnic minorities are best. For
example, you’ve more chance in Southwark Crown Court than Kingston and far
more than in Canterbury.

Juries are asked to reach a unanimous verdict, but if they can’t a majority
of 10 to 2 can be accepted. In other words, you need to persuade 3 people
that clobbering Nazis is OK. Even in very conservative areas people grew up
watching The Dambusters & The Great Escape so there’s always hope. Get in
the old Pastor Niemoller quote “First they came for the Black Bloc…”

Time scale

If you plead guilty you will be sentenced within a couple of months, but if
you plead not guilty it will be considerably longer to get the case
decided, typically 6 months for Magistrates Court cases and between one and
two years for Crown Court cases. Although the waiting is very stressful, it
often means the urgency for the courts to deal severely with an incident
has passed and sentences are lower. All the people convicted for violent
disorder at the Brighton March For England got suspended sentences, and the
fact the trials were two years later helped.

Political implications

This is obviously just the legal practicalities. You, your comrades and
organisation will also have to weigh the political implications and develop
a well thought through strategy in advance. Here’s a quick check list for
you and your group to have planned before going on an anti-fascist action.

1. A legal briefing from a experienced legal support group like GBC/LDMG

2. Ensuring all comrades know what happens when they are arrested (drawing
on the experience of comrades who have been through the system)

3. Making sure everyone has details of the recommended solicitors who have
been briefed before the action

4. Supporting anyone held in the police station by gathering outside
(whilst not putting anyone who might be wanted at risk)

5. Attending every single court hearing – the importance of support cannot
be underestimated

6. Raising and providing money to cover transport costs

7. Considering how to present a political defence in court, as well as
legal arguments

8. Writing to and sending money to anyone unlucky enough to be jailed

The state will try to grind us down individually; the defence of every
individual is the responsibility of the entire group and the movement as a
whole. Solidarity is the key.

Andy Meinke