Fairford Five status report

Margaret Jones

People have been asking me what happened with the appeal of the ‘Fairford Five’ and the Greenpeace activists in the House of Lords. Others will know by now that the law lords unanimously ruled against us. Aggression, they said - the crime of attacking another nation - is a crime in international law, but cannot be said to be part of British domestic law.

Therefore it is impossible for a British court to hear any argument that the war on Iraq was illegal. Therefore no British judge or jury can consider, as a matter of law, whether the war was illegal or not. Therefore the argument that defendants sincerely believed the war was illegal cannot be used as a defence argument against charges of criminal damage, etc.

If this sounds like Alice in Wonderland to you, it probably is. But splendid protection for Tony Blair and co.

No surprises here, really. We would all have been astonished if the law lords had ruled differently. What is a bit of a surprise is the tone of Lord Hoffmann’s statement on the matter. I’ll just quote two extracts.

Lord Hoffmann considers the statement Paul Milling and I handed in to the police at the time of our arrest at Fairford, back in March 2003. It explained that we were trying to hinder the planes from taking off. Hoffmann writes:

That is a fair picture of what an observer from the United Kingdom would have thought of a somewhat ineffectual attempt by a Second World War résistante to sabotage a German airfield in occupied France. It assumes the defendant to be a lonely individual resisting the acts of a hostile and alien state to which she owes no loyalty. But the state in this case was the defendant’s own state, the state which protected and sustained her, and to which she owed allegiance. And the legal system which had to judge the reasonableness of her actions was that of the United Kingdom itself ...

And this is the ‘liberal’ on the panel speaking. (So do I hand back my Job Seeker’s Allowance right now?)

There follows a great deal along the lines of , ‘What if everyone took the law into their own hands? - society would descend into anarchy,’ etc. Well, in a way I see his point. Here is the nub of it all, though:

These appeals and similar cases concerned with controversial activities such as animal experiments, fox hunting, genetically modified crops, nuclear weapons and the like, suggest the emergence of a new phenomenon, namely litigation as the continuation of protest by other means. [Hoffmann then lists nine cases, from 1988 to 2000, that he considers to exemplify the use of litigation as activism.] The protesters claim that their honestly held opinion of the legality or dangerous character of the activities in question justifies trespass, causing damage to property or the use of force. By this means they invite the court to adjudicate upon the merits of their opinions and provide themselves with a platform from which to address the media on the subject. They seek to cause expense and, if possible, embarrassment to the prosecution by exorbitant demands for disclosure.

Clearly, Lord Hoffmann doesn’t like this trend. Which I take as meaning that we must be doing something right. We are being effective in raising awareness, and while we hardly threaten the stability of the state, the Establishment is a bit annoyed. So it will be inclined to clamp down. It’s an old, old story.

With this weight of judicial opinion hanging over us, five of us have yet to attend our three separate trials in Bristol (some time, we are told, between mid-summer and late autumn).

I know I speak for all five of us in thanking everyone who has supported us so staunchly up till now. It really has helped to keep us strong.

We feel sure many of you will be there for us again, when we go back to court later this year. Again - thank you.



April 2006

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