Two Insulate Britain protesters who blocked a City of London road have been jailed for seven weeks after flouting a court order not to use the climate crisis in their defence at trial.
Dorset councillor Giovanna Lewis, 65, and horticultural worker Amy Pritchard, 38, were both accused of causing public nuisance by gluing themselves to the tarmac in Bishopsgate in October 2021.
The pair, who represented themselves at an Inner London Crown Court trial, were banned by Judge Silas Reid from relying on their concerns about fuel poverty or the environment in their own defence.
But both defendants breached the order, with Pritchard citing her “responsibility” to future generations and parts of the world already suffering climate catastrophe.
The jury failed to reach verdicts and prosecutors indicated that they may seek a retrial.
Both women admitted being in contempt of court on Friday and were sentenced to seven weeks’ imprisonment, of which they will serve half.
Judge Reid told the defendants they had sought to “set themselves above the law” by mentioning aspects of their motivation in carrying out the October protest that were not relevant to jury deliberations.
He concluded that the defendants had either set out to “manipulate” the jury into acquitting them even if they were sure of the pair’s guilt, or to use the trial to continue their protest within the courtroom.
“Either motivation would be serious as you would be seeking to set yourselves above the law,” the judge said.
“Each of you has clear disdain for the judicial process. Your contempts are very serious as they represent complete contempt for the court and court process.”
He added: “Most importantly though, in my mind, is the need of the court to protect its process. Not out of any sense of pride or importance, but because the rule of law is vital.
“All people are treated as equals in the courts. No side has the advantage of the court determining that their cause is just, or that the law should be bent or broken because of any personal views a judge may or may not have.
“If people are allowed to circumvent the court process just because they feel they should be entitled to, then the system would not be able to be relied on by every member of society.
“You each decided that rather than show respect for the court process you would set yourselves up as individual arbiters of what is fair and proper. That is real contempt.”
The defendants had each elected to have a Crown Court trial – heard before a jury of members of the public – instead of a summary trial at a magistrates’ court.
Asked by the judge whether they wished him to take anything into consideration in sentencing, Lewis said: “I continue to be astonished that today in a British court, a judge can or would even want to criminalise the mention of the words fuel poverty or climate crisis.
“There are thousands of deaths each year in the UK from fuel poverty and thousands of deaths around the world due to climate change. In the future this will be millions.”
She added: “Your ruling that why we did this was completely irrelevant was quashing the human spirit and the heart and you can only do that so much but it has to speak and that is the place I spoke from. Speaking from the heart and not allowing my soul to be repressed in the way that your rulings were doing.”
Pritchard said the world is “staring total eco-system collapse in the face” and criticised “those in power” for failing to act.
Addressing the judge directly, she said: “I include you in that and I wonder if people are too comfortable to feel the urgency.”
Several supporters watching proceedings from the public gallery were warned not to disrupt proceedings by the judge before applauding at the end of the hearing.
Speaking to the PA news agency outside court ahead of the hearing, Ms Lewis branded the ruling “unbelievable” and an attack on civil liberties.
But she added that she had “committed to going to prison” when she broke the law and did not want to act like a “martyr”.
She said: “Nobody wants to go to prison but in order to stand up for what’s right, for our civil liberties in court, it’s the price that we have to pay.”
Ms Pritchard said: “I feel that my responsibility here is not to the judge and to this court, my responsibility is much wider. It’s to young people who are rightly worried about their futures and my responsibilities to our global families who are already suffering and dying, to the world’s ecosystems and also to future generations.”
She added that she had interpreted the hung jury as a “promising sign” that some sections of the public may be sympathetic to Insulate Britain’s cause.
“I think it’s a sign that people are really concerned about the issues that we’re raising, and perhaps also concerned that we’re being blocked from talking about them in court,” she said.
“History has shown that the law is not always in line with justice, and I think this is another example of that.
“This situation is completely unprecedented. The legal system is not fit for purpose to deal with it and to deal with people trying to intervene.”