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The placard was right

When I saw the headline of this article in the Independent, “Sending climate protesters to prison shows the law is an ass”, which you can also read on MSN here, I put the ignition key in the snark machine.

I read the strapline “A pensioner is facing two years in jail for holding a placard outside a court. It is a worrying case that casts a shadow over our jury system of justice”, said, “Yeah, right”, and turned the key.

I saw that it was by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, and powered up the mighty engines.

I read the following, “Trudi Warner is, in many ways, an unlikely rebel. The 69-year-old former child mental health social worker is, in her retirement, a keen organic grower, and last year spent part of the year looking after sheep on the Isle of Eigg” and, toes twitching with anticipation, moved my foot over the go-pedal. Far from being an “unlikely rebel” Trudi Warner is as conventional a rebel as ever picked a caterpillar off an organic lettuce and took it out to start a new life in the garden. I was about to push the pedal to the metal when…

I realised that Alan Rushbridger was right.

I had been waiting for the half-line in the eleventh paragraph where this “lovable pensioner” was revealed to have harassed travellers or vandalised a work of art. It never came. Trudi Warner really is being prosecuted solely for standing outside a court and holding up a placard saying,



That’s it. That’s all she did; hold up that placard near a courtroom. And as Mr Rushbridger says, the statement on her placard correctly states a precedent that goes back to a famous case of 1670, in which a jury stubbornly refused to convict two Quaker preachers of preaching to an unlawful assembly despite being imprisoned for two days without food.

One may or may not agree with Trudi Warner’s opinions on the “climate crisis” (I do not), but it is bizarre that reminding jurors of what was once a revered legal principle should become a crime merely because the reminder took place near a courtroom, the very place where such a reminder is most necessary.

Since a reminder evidently is necessary to the legal authorities, here is a picture of the plaque in the Old Bailey commemorating that case:

Photo credit: Paul Clarke, Wikimedia Commons

The plaque says,

Near this Site WILLIAM PENN and WILLIAM MEAD were tried in 1670 for preaching to an unlawful assembly in Grace Church Street This tablet Commemorates The courage and endurance of the Jury Thos Vere, Edward Bushell and ten others who refused to give a verdict against them, although locked up without food for two nights, and were fined for their final verdict of Not Guilty The case of these Jurymen was reviewed on a writ of Habeas Corpus and Chief Justice Vaughan delivered the opinion of the Court which established The Right of Juries to give their Verdict according to their Convictions

21 comments to The placard was right

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed Natalie – it is disgusting that this person was persecuted (for that is what this prosecution really was) for peacefully holding up a sign near (not in – near) a court room. And the sign was telling the truth – “Jury Nulification” has always existed, juries may behave like utter idiots sometimes – but that does not alter the fact that they do have the right to judge a law bad and to release someone they believe to have been unjustly prosecuted under a bad law. Again juries may be utterly wrong in their opinions – but that is by-the-by.

    As for the person prosecuted, and facing possible imprisonment – the law has shown itself to be worse than an ass, it has been shown to be tyrant, tyranny of the “greater good” kind of Thomas Hobbes or Jeremy Bentham.

    “But you are siding with the left – they would not give a damn if it was one of us who was being persecuted”.

    Most likely they would not care – indeed they would cheer on our imprisonment for “Hate Speech”, “racism”, “Islamophobia” or whatever – but that does NOT mean the left should be persecuted. One of the worst sayings in the medieval church was “error has no rights” – justifying the persecution of people judged to be in error. People have just as much right to say things that are in error as people have the right to say things to correct their errors – neither side should be persecuted.

    If we do not believe in Freedom of Speech for our enemies we have no right to claim it for ourselves.

  • bobby b

    The federal courthouse in Minneapolis is routinely surrounded with taped-up announcements, with the title “JURORS!” in big print on top, and the basic “you can refuse” instructions.

    They’re all over for about a block around the courthouse. The judges inside keep sending deputies out to confiscate them, but they reappear within an hour or so.

    If you’re a lawyer in a crim trial inside, you’d better not even hint to a juror that nullification is a thing, or you’re going to jail.

  • Steven R

    We have the absolute right for Jury Nullification, despite what the judges say. If I were in charge of the courts I would require every set of instructions going to a jury include nullification just as an option. But our betters on Capitol Hill and the solons in black muumuus don’t like the idea of the unwashed masses being able to think for themselves and say “no sir, that law is stupid and we’re not going to convict.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    I don’t know whether i am more impressed by the jurors of 1670 making their stand even when facing (presumably indefinite) imprisonment without food; or more disturbed by their arbitrary, unlawful imprisonment.

    This was before the Glorious Revolution: perhaps this should make the arbitrary imprisonment less disturbing.

  • Fraser Orr

    I wonder, today, if there are twelve men or women in the whole country who would be as brave and honorable as those twelve? I think, probably not.

  • Lee Moore

    I confess that the petty fascism on display here is so routine that one hardly notices another example.

    I suppose the same could be said about the cluelessness of lefties, but all the same they do continue to astound me. As Natalie said “Far from being an “unlikely rebel” Trudi Warner is as conventional a rebel as ever picked a caterpillar off an organic lettuce and took it out to start a new life in the garden” – so the question is – what exactly was going on in Alan Rusbridger’s head when he wrote “unlikely rebel” ?

    Is it just a rhetorical tic ? All rebels are automatically “unlikely” ? Or what ?

  • John

    The current day New York version appears to be “Jurors – You have an absolute right to convict a defendant according to your conscience” allowing for the fact that one man’s conscience can be another man’s acquiescence to the hive mentality of hatred towards orange man.

  • As someone currently about to start jury service, this is a timely post indeed!

  • Stuart Noyes

    Those two indispensable political rights, habeas corpus and trial by jury. They only exist because of the treat of tyranny. The threat of someone considering their desires law rather than the actual law. Proving that power corrupts. Changing government doesn’t clean up corruption.

    Trial by jury proves the people are more reliable than the state. A point I believe supports my suggestion that we need direct democracy. Our nation state depends on it. A point I disagree with Perry over.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Stuart Noyes
    Trial by jury proves the people are more reliable than the state. A point I believe supports my suggestion that we need direct democracy.

    Trial by jury proves no such thing. The vast majority of trials the jury finds the defendant guilty. At the federal level it is something like 95%. And the vast majority of cases are disposed of by plea bargain. Trial by jury is, like democracy itself, at best a blunt backstop against tyranny. And with the people we have? Where are the twelve people who would stand up for what is right as happened in the 1670 trial? I doubt you can find them. For sure there are occasional wins, but there are a lot more outrageous losses than wins. Look at what is going on with Trump.

    And direct democracy is the LAST thing we need. The politicians we have are bad enough, making everyone a politician is insane. We need much less government not much more. The electorate have shown themselves incapable of voting even among a limited choice of two options the better of the two.

    And regardless, as I have argued here, politicians are a distraction, loathsome though they may be. The two sources of tyranny in the west are the people who vote themselves a tyranny and an entirely unaccountable civil service that does what advances their agenda in face of the actual desires of the people they terrorize.

  • And the vast majority of cases are disposed of by plea bargain.

    Plea bargaining, particularly in conjunction with the lack of a general presumption of ‘loser pays’, is the single worst thing about the US system IMO.

  • Schrödinger's Dog

    Spreading the concept of jury nullification as widely as possible could be a very good move for those of us of a libertarian disposition. It has, after all, led to positive changes in the past. For example, for a long time in England, poaching was punishable by death; but juries were unwilling to convict, forcing Parliament to reduce the penalties.

    As it is, there are whole areas of the law – “hate speech” cases, for example – where, if I were on a jury, I would simply not convict in any circumstances, even if it were quite clear the defendant was guilty of the “offence”.

  • John

    With the recent passing of the double murderer it is worth recalling the post-trial words of a black OJ Simpson juror who was quite open about her decision to ignore the facts in order to stick it to Whitey.

    On the plus side she was indirectly responsible for so many Norm MacDonald masterpieces.

  • Stuart Noyes

    @Fraser Orr Trial by jury stemmed from the Church trying its own originally but its said the idea of trial by your peers possibly came from middle Eastern ideas.

    I agree with your point people can make mistakes, stemming from the fact we are all human. I’d still prefer having my fate decided by independent people rather than state employees. Returning to that 1670 case, the two non conformists would have been found guilty had it not been for their jury. Something for a bill of rights perhaps? Jurors are not to be incarcerated or have any action taken against them while sitting.

    Regarding your distrust of people making choices for themselves, several weaknesses at least rear their uglies. One being the people being given false information. This happened during the Brexit referendum from both sides. Despite of this, thankfully we voted to regain home rule. Powell said after the 1975 referendum, that the people might have voted to remain. They might have even been warned that the eec would take over the government of the uk. He believed the British people still thought despite being warned they would still be in control of their country. He said they would learn.

    I’d also point out that Norway and Switzerland had referenda for joining the eu and both countries rejected. I cannot prove my case but I’m sure we’d leave the echr and un protocols and conventions if given the choice. Government coercion is a very powerful foe along with economic scaremongering.

    Maybe you could say the people get what they deserve? As it stands the British people have next to no power while our political class have it all. The Harrogate Agenda has better arguments for direct democracy than I can muster.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr: “And the vast majority of cases are disposed of by plea bargain.”

    Here’s my usual plea-bargain case:

    Armed robbery charges. They have video of my client – his face! – as he robs the store. They caught him with the gun in his pocket. Also the cash from the store in his pocket. And his friend who drove has already confessed everything.

    Or, guy beats up his girlfriend in front of her two teen kids who are now witnesses. Domestic assault charges. Her face is bashed. His fists are bashed. He’s picked up driving away, and basically confesses.

    How the hell am I going to take that case to trial? At this point, my job as a defense lawyer is to do what I can do for my client, which now consists only of limiting his punishment.

    So, in the robbery, prosecutor says “statutes call for a sentence of between 36 and 48 months in prison. If you don’t make us go through the absolute wasted time of a trial, I’ll stipulate to a sentence at the bottom end of that – 36 months.” (And that trial is indeed a BIG waste – three days of a courtroom, a judge and a reporter and a clerk, me, the prosecutor, a few cop guards, and all the jurors.)

    I then bluff like I can contest some portion of his proof and bid 24 months, he reacts, etc. And we’re done, the guy does 30 months, and no jurors are called.

    98% of crimes aren’t whodunits. They’re as basic and straightforward (and as easily proven) as my examples above.

    The only bad times in plea bargaining come when there’s a client who truly might be not guilty, the case against him isn’t great, and the prosecutor offers a very low sentence. It can be a tough call, but, provided the prosecutor hasn’t violated several canons of his job and charged someone with little to no proof, it’s not coercive – it’s just a tough choice.

    Plea bargaining served many – most? – of my crim clients well. Get rid of it, and it’s those people who will suffer, not the State.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobbyb, thanks for the information “from the trenches.”. All I know about the criminal justice system (thankfully!) comes from Jack McCoy and Serena Southerland, and I’m usually distracted because she is a bit of a babe… But the whole system depends to a large extent on the integrity of the prosecutors and the DAs office.

    I don’t know how much I trust these guys. It seems the plan is “massively overcharge then take a lower charge plea bargain”, irrespective of the ethical justification for doing so. I don’t know how common that is; what I do know is if what we see in the various Trump trials is, to coin a phrase, even a penumbra of what is typical, then we should rightly fear a cascade of injustice at the margins.

    I feel myself stuck in a strange dilemma. What is needed to get crime under control is the greatly increase the certainty of being prosecuted for any crime you might commit. Right now the clearance rate of murders in Chicago is 25%, and that includes all the typical knuckle dragging morons who commit most of the murders. I’m guessing that, with a bit of planning I could get away with murder, literally, in Chicago[*] without any serious chance of detection. But getting the convicting rate up means putting more power in the hands of really scary people like the police and the DA. So it is a bit of a rock and a hard place situation.

    And, FWIW, although there is no doubt in my mind that OJ did kill those people, and I don’t doubt that the jury had some very dubious motives for acquitting, the simple fact is that the government deserved to lose. Clark and Darden were an early version of diversity hires, and there is irrefutable evidence that the government planted some of the evidence (even though there was mountains of valid evidence also used.) You fiddle with one piece of evidence the jury has every right to question all the rest. It really was a disgraceful spectacle for the California criminal justice system.

    [*] To be clear for anyone from our government reading along, I have no plans to commit any murders in Chicago, in fact I’m rather terrified to even visit the city these days. 😀

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr: “I don’t know how much I trust these guys. It seems the plan is “massively overcharge then take a lower charge plea bargain”, irrespective of the ethical justification for doing so.”

    Prosecutors, like every other ordered system, exist on a bell curve. For a time, the curve may bulge on one side or the other. There will always be overreaching, AH prosecutors.

    A bigger danger to us now are the “Soros prosecutors”, elected because of the huge ad campaigns financed by Soros grants.

    Their approach to crime is to only charge about 50% of provable offenses, undercharge those cases, and then apologize for inconveniencing the defendants at all. (They’re busy making up for hundreds of centuries of racism, or something.)

    That’s Chicago right now. What y’all have there is a near-certainty of not being charged for your crime, which explains why I won’t go near that fun city at all anymore. Yay, Ms. Fox. (That’s the Chi head prosecutor.)

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – correct.

    And they are consistent – they will persecute (sorry “prosecute” with made-up “crimes”) “Reactionary” political dissent (at local, State and Federal level) – but they do tend to prosecute property crimes, this is because private property rights are “Reactionary”.

    Whether they are Marxists or followers of Henri Saint-Simon, or some other type of “Progressive” what they hate is clear.

    What they hate is independently owned family business enterprises – whether retail, or in manufacturing and mining, or (most of all) in farming and ranching.

    Independent business enterprises, owned by individuals and families, is what they want to destroy – in order to enslave the population under the government and vast “partner” corporations funded by the Credit Money of the banks and other financial entities (money created from NOTHING – and not dependent on pleasing customers).

    The government – whether it is the city government of Chicago, the State Government of Illinois or other such States, or the Federal Government in Washington D.C. is a clear-and-present-danger to both liberty and to civilisation (for they are linked – a civilisation that crushes all independent economic enterprise, eventually, crushes itself).

  • Paul Marks

    My apologies – I meant to type “they do NOT tend to prosecute property crimes”

    By the way GB News is busy digging up ex Republican Party officials to sneer at President Trump – the idea that the GB News represents an alternative to the international left establishment does not really hold up, as Mark Steyn was the first to find out (who was treated in the same despicable way by GB News as he was by the institutionally corrupt American courts).

    The same threats to society are found in the United Kingdom and other Western nations – this attack is most certainly not “just” on the United States of America.

  • Have just seen two of these placard holders at the side entrance to Snaresbrook Court as I went in this morning!

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I have long believed we should have participatory, or time-share, democracy. If you are an adult, and choose to be a citizen, then you could register at your Local Town Hall, and participate in part-time community services (like the local militia, or fire brigade, or road patrols, etc.). Then, for 1 month, you, and 1/12th of the citizens could meet together to review the current laws, and see if they are worth modifying, and vote on any new laws proposed by anyone. This community service could replace the civil/public service. I also advocate that Local governments should be the most powerful level of government, able to send representatives to State Government to discuss uniform codes, and so on. While a bit clumsy, this would do away with professional politicians. If we make advancement in the services dependent on years of service, then we have another reason to be good citizens- keep your hands clean, and live long enough, and you will become Mayor! If you choose to not be a citizen, then you would be forced to obey the laws, but would have no say in those laws.

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