Courts are being prepared to deal with hundreds of climate change protesters in action that a lawyer says “beggars belief”.
Two courtrooms are being set aside for a day each week at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for 19 weeks to deal with Extinction Rebellion protesters.
Around 35 protesters are due to appear at City of London magistrates’ court on Friday and it is thought more than 50 will be summonsed every Friday in August.
The Metropolitan Police said 10 people have already been through the courts, with seven convicted of a criminal offence and three cases discontinued.
More than 1,000 activists were arrested over the protest action that brought parts of central London to a standstill in April, and so far 232 files of evidence have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The Metropolitan Police said in May that they would push for all the 1,151 people arrested, including Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott, to face charges.
So far 180 have been charged, one cautioned for outraging public decency and 32 have been released with no further action. The hundreds remaining are still under consideration.
The Extinction Rebellion group’s tactics included asking volunteers to deliberately get arrested to cause maximum disruption at roadblocks on Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, while others glued themselves to trains and buildings.
Solicitor Raj Chada, from Hodge Jones and Allen, which represents around 300 of the protesters, said the prosecutions are a waste of money.
He told PA: “To prosecute 1,000 people for peaceful protests beggars belief.
“At a time when more and more violent crimes aren’t being prosecuted the CPS has decided to waste taxpayers’s money by dragging all of those arrested from Extinction Rebellion in front of the courts.
“Figures show that around 9% of crimes in the UK lead to a criminal charge, yet when it comes to peaceful protesters they are trying to charge 100%.
“The simple fact is that most of those protesters will get nothing more than a conditional discharge or fine.
“How can this amount of court time and money be wasted on this? The priority should be to tackle the climate crisis that threatens us rather than the prosecution of peaceful protesters.”
Official figures for 2018 showed 443,000 recorded crimes out of 4.6 million resulted in a criminal charge or summons in England and Wales, a proportion of around 9.6%.
Extinction Rebellion said while activists would welcome the chance to have their day in court, the burden on the criminal justice system was not justifiable,
“The burden this tsunami of cases will place on the courts is unprecedented and will impact the day to day work of the criminal justice system,” the group said.
“With most defendants likely to receive a conditional discharge, the waste of court time and resource is unjustifiable.”
But a senior Met officer insisted protesters had chosen to ignore restrictions put in place by police to try to limit the disruption.
Commander Jane Connors said: “The serious disruption caused to people in central London during the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in April was beyond unacceptable.
“As ever, our policing focus was to balance the right to protest while ensuring Londoners could continue to go about their daily business.
“However, protesters continually chose to ignore the conditions imposed by the MPS in order to keep London moving. As a result an exceptionally large number of arrests were made in order to contain the serious disruption that was being caused.
“This had a significant impact on local policing as thousands of officers were diverted away from core local duties and asked to work extended 12-hour shifts. We now have a dedicated team in place to follow up and thoroughly investigate all arrests that were made.
“We previously stated our intention to progress each and every case in relation to these protests, and we will continue to work closely with the CPS to bring those responsible for this disorder before the courts.”
A CPS spokesman said 232 files of evidence had been received from the Met Police so far and it would review each case to see if there was enough evidence to pursue charges.
It is understood most of these cases involve an alleged failure to comply with an order for protesters to stick to an allocated area near Marble Arch to minimise disruption.