Four of the five Elbit protesters in Wolverhampton have been found guilty, two of them on majority verdicts, after the judge refused them the opportunity to mount a full defence. The protesters, members of Palestine Action, were charged with offences after they took part in a planned action against Elbit Systems.
On March 8th Tony Greenstein, described by the Brighton and Hove News as a “notorious Brighton activist” well known for ” his anti-Israel activism and for being expelled from the Labour party for abusing fellow members”, had hired a van which he drove to Walsall. There he picked up five other members of Palestine Action: Bethany Clowackin who pleaded guilty before the trial began, Ibrahim Samadi from Cambridge, Alex Waters from Ashurst Wood, Jeremy Parker from Birmingham and Helen Caney who was found not guilty. The van contained equipment which the six intended to use to spray paint Elbit Systems Shenstone factory.
The judge, Michael Chambers, previously regarded as a specialist prosecutor in serious crime cases, allowed the prosecution barrister Deborah Gould to argue that the case had nothing to do with politics and was simply one of intent to cause criminal damage. As Tony Greenstein had argued in a blog, now taken down by order of the judge: “If Chambers and Gould are to be believed, then 6 people, most of whom did not even know each other beforehand, conspired to engage in a spot of vandalism on the morning of March 9th for no other reason than that they felt in a destructive mood. Quite why we didn’t focus on breaking a few windows nearer home or vandalising a phone box is one of life’s mysteries.”
Under UK law it is possible to argue a defence of preventing a greater crime. This is covered in Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act (1967). The defence of the Elbit protesters was to have been that Elbit Systems provide drones which are used by Israel to target civilians, an act illegal under international law.
International Humanitarian Law is contained in The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Whilst it does not prohibit the killing of civilians outright it does stipulate a rule of distinction. Broadly this states that: “belligerents and fighters at all times distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on one hand, and combatants and military objectives on the other hand, so as to protect persons not taking part in the conflict. Civilians can never be deliberately and indiscriminately targeted, and to do so is a war crime.”
This is not the first time this year that a judge has instructed defendants who have been involved in protests not to refer to a greater crime as part of their defence in court. This was the case in both Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil trials, and Insulate Britain declared: “The British legal system no longer has any legitimacy in our eyes”.
The jury may have disagreed with the Elbit protesters as to whether their actions were legitimate given this framework, but, in not even allowing those arguments to be put, the British justice system has not prevented politics from entering the courtroom. Rather it has turned the courtroom into a political arena where certain political views, already marginalised, are not to be given an airing. This is wrong. It would appear to be wrong legally, but it is certainly wrong morally. A justice system that decides beforehand which arguments are legitimate and which are not is no justice system at all. It is a pig circus.
The 4 guilty Elbit protesters now await what will almost certainly be custodial sentences on June 20th, a fate that has already befallen Mike Lynch-White who was yesterday sentenced to 27 months for painting APPH, a supplier of Elbit, with red paint.
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