The judge at a trial of two anti-fracking campaigners warned them that taking part in protests in future could be expensive.
Isabelle Bish and Samantha Gibson were found guilty after a trial of obstructing the highway during a lock-on protest outside the Horse Hill oil exploration site near Horley in Surrey last year. Court report
Passing sentence, District Judge Adrian Turner said: “I do urge both of you to think very carefully about how you conduct yourselves at protests.
“I have warned you that the financial consequences of taking part in a protest could be expensive.”
DJ Turner was referring to the Criminal Court Charge which will be imposed on anyone convicted of an offence committed after 13th April this year.
The charge is added to fines, victim surcharge and any legal fees, regardless of the personal circumstances of a defendant. For the least serious offences, it starts at £150 for people who plead guilty and £520 for people convicted after a trial.
DJ Turner said the courts had no discretion about whether to make the charge.
The Law Society and Magistrates’ Association are concerned that the charge could encourage people to plead guilty, rather than risk extra fees.
Netpol, the organisation which monitors the police, said the charges could discourage first time and low income campaigners from taking part in anti-fracking protests.
It described the charge as “most disproportionate” for least serious offences. It suggested that people convicted after a trial for aggravated trespass were likely to face a fine of £200-£300 but an additional flat fee of £520.
“The new charge therefore places a potentially large financial burden on anyone who choose to take part in non-violent disobedience”, Netpol said.
Urgent threat to environment from dangerous oil industry justified Horse Hill protest, court told
All this sounds very fair. The right to protest is absolutely fine and is part of our democracy. The right to obstruct, cause a nuisance, to delay operations, to camp in a field leaving 6 tonnes of waste and fecal pollution (like at Immingham) all cleaned up at public expense, and dumping a very high policing charge on local councils who would prefer to spend it on necessities, is something that should incur a cost to people.
The key here is the difference between protesting and the purposeful disturbance and harassment involved in ‘disobedience’. I have no issue at all with people protesting, it is a key part of democracy. However, standing by the side of the road letting people know your views waving banners or talking to people happy to listen in a town centre is a very different thing to the crimes being committed by some. We have to stop justifying criminal behaviour as if it is the same thing as free speech. The law is there for a reason – it forms a bond and contract between us all. It means that if I don’t like you or what you are doing I can tell people and let people know and stand by the road and wave banners etc, but I cannot climb on your car or block a public road. I cannot harass people or cause them harm. Everyone has an opinion on everything and many people feel strongly about lots of things, be they the economy, immigration, the environment etc. I cannot pick an immigrant and block his business or harass his staff. It is just plain wrong. I can protest about immigration, but the law is there to make sure I don’t go too far. It is perfectly correct that if I decide to ignore the law that I do not expect everyone to just pick up the bill. If I don’t like solar farms or wind turbines then that is my issue. Everyone else should not be expected to pay for me blocking access to building a wind turbine because of the large mining and waste pools causing cancer in China. If I want to do something I have to accept the consequences. Expecting everyone else to pay for me to break the law is not how civil society should work.
Also, I think, if you have to break the law to ‘get your message across’ then you should perhaps think about your message and the way you are communicating with people.
Very sage comments Garry. Looking back at the previous posts, these people are not protesting. That means holding up a banner and maybe shouting a bit. This deliberate obstruction of a legally sanctioned activity that we all depend on is frankly, silly. If you behaved like this in any other area you would be arrested and so this is fair game. I am surprised the charges are so low. The costs they are causing to these companies and to the police sickens me. 4 million pounds at Balcombe apparently. That could have been spent on local services, or nurses.
The election victory by the Tories means that the so called ‘social licence’ argument (whatever that ever was) is dead in the water. The bulk of the public are happy that these type of operations will go ahead.
I wonder how these protestors got to these protests? Using the same fossil fuels that they are protesting about?