Court Report: Ruth Jarman finds the law at odds with morality
October 02, 2019 by Zoe Blackler
Extinction Rebellion’s Ruth Jarman was on trial last Monday at Hendon Magistrates Court. The 56-year old mother of three from Hampshire, and member of Christian Climate Action (CCA), gives her account of the trial – from cross-examining a policeman to breaking down in tears.
Watch Peter Armstrong’s video of the day here.
Finally I’m here in court, wishing I’d dressed less like I was going to a wedding, with three CCA supporters. One, Christine, is forcing oranges, cereal bars and smiles at every opportunity. Peter, who I met for the first time, had maybe spent more time on my defence than I had, WhatsApping and emailing me with the latest eloquent and completely indisputable reasons why I should not be found guilty. And my personal angel, Melanie, who had offered to be my McKenzie friend – someone you are allowed to have sitting with you in court if you are representing yourself. As luck or God would have it, Melanie retired from her job as a lawyer on Friday and there was something very wonderful about sitting in one of the small rooms they have for clients to confidentially discuss their case with their lawyers and praying for guidance and the presence of God in the courtroom we were about to enter.
We were called in. I felt stressed, but almost in a good way. This wasn’t the ‘why the heck did you get yourself into this mess?’ I felt a couple of weeks ago before I had prepared my statement. This was a moment I had been given to speak the truth to people who will have to listen. I had memorised my statement, printed out my bundle in triplicate and applied my daughter’s cheap lipstick. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
There was a knock on the door to the court and everyone stood up as the judge (Judge Deputy Chief Magistrate Ikram) walked in and sat down. He looked relaxed, in control and kind.
I had chosen to represent myself so as to be able to say whatever I wanted to, and to make it less costly. One particularly weird and uncomfortable thing that this allowed me to do was to cross examine the Senior Officer who had imposed the Section 14 on the protest.
Me: Chief Inspector Duncan McMillian, I have some questions for you. In terms of the people you interviewed about disruption. Did you interview any of the protesters about disruption to their lives and human rights by climate which has brought them to the protest?
DM: One of my roles was to assess whether…
Judge: (Stops him) – that wasn’t the question.
DM: I did not interview any protesters
Me: In terms of the disruption to the traffic in the local area, it is heavily documented that pollution from traffic is a serious disruption to community health. Did you take into account the improvement of air quality in Oxford Street during the protests?
DM: Improvement in air quality is not within the framework of my assessment
Me: Have you ever been responsible for public order at the Notting Hill Carnival or a Football Match? Do you also weigh up the impact of these on the community? Would you say that the rights of people to watch football or enjoy a carnival must be balanced against the disruption to the community? Would you say the reason for this protest was more important than football?
DM: There is no equivalency.
Me: When you considered imposing the S14, I understand you weighed my freedom of expression and right to assembly against the rights of the community not to be disrupted. Our Government is withdrawing our human absolute right to life from all children including mine. Did you take this into consideration when you made your decision?
DM: At the time I made the decision I did not see an Article 2 threat to life issue.
Me: Does your public order training explain the government’s legal commitments under the Climate Change Act?
DM: Public order training is about safety. We do discuss legislation and policy: climate change is part of this.
Me: In weighing up your position did you look into the cause of the demonstration and are you aware of the failure of the government to address their legal climate change obligations, documented by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)?
DM: My degree is in history, I know how to balance, haven’t researched this but I look at the situation in front with me.
Me: In your deliberations, did you calculate the loss of life and livelihoods caused by the government’s failure to comply with the law on climate change?
DM: I did not calculate Government failure in this. I am trained in Public Order. I don’t consider the politics. I don’t know if the Government is breaking the law. I’ve read the newspapers and there is a divergence in vIews, but I don’t know.
Me: The shadow chancellor testified that our action triggered the Declaration of Environment and Climate Emergency, If our presence at Oxford Circus might prevent the death of one child, would it have been proportionate to impose the Section 14?
Prosecutor (Simon Maugham): This is speculative territory
Judge – The movement says it’s the science and is not speculative, its causing deaths.
DM: Where do you go with the politics? I don’t look at the impact of this. I don’t know whether protests caused someone to die or whether it prevented death.
Me: Serious disruption is a relative term. Our actions were trying to prevent the death of billions at some point in the future, perhaps not too far away. When you made your S14 decision, how did you feel?
Judge: I can’t allow that question – it is not pertinent.
It was now time for my turn in the witness box. I asked if it was okay to bring my notes. The Judge said he wouldn’t usually but allows it.
I start to read my statement that I had memorised while on a long and beautiful walk on my nearby heathland the morning before.
Judge: (interrupting) I’ve got your written evidence of strongly held beliefs, what do you want to say about why you are not guilty.
Me: I am not guilty because the officer didn’t weigh up the consequences of climate change, which are beyond imagining and he should have considered that. And that the Government was breaking its own laws and this was an important way of bringing this into public knowledge.
I have been campaigning on climate for two decades and then two weeks on the streets of London and parliament declared an environment and climate emergency. There was something in this protest that was right, and shutting it down puts the police on the wrong side of history and of giving our children a future.
Also, the Government is criminally negligent in failing to protect its citizens.
There is no turning back once we reach a tipping point into cascading feedbacks. The Secretary General of the UN said we face a direct existential threat and we need to change course by 2020 to stop runaway climate change. The government knows that, it knew that two years ago and has shown no inclination to act. It is one of the few countries in the world that is increasing it financial support for fossil fuels.
And it is failing in its primary duty to care for its citizens.
In terms of emergency services, XR always tells the police where we will be. So arrangements can be made. Poor weather doesn’t do that. Our protest will reduce the likelihood of poor weather disruption in the future.
I was then cross-examined by the prosecutor.
He asked me questions about where I lived and whether there was an Extinction Rebellion group there. I think he was trying to make the point that I was selfish and a nimby not to sit in the road in my leafy Hampshire village instead of Oxford Circus.
I said I was sorry for the disruption, but it’s the disruption that causes the media to know that we are there and that we have to stop dealing with the small disruptions of this moment, and consider the long term disruption of climate breakdown. If we don’t, there will be no future for our children. Part of the Chief Inspector’s job is surely to protect the future lives of London citizens.
P: How do you think you have the right to disrupt ordinary Londoners?
Me: This isn’t about my rights, it’s about the rights of our children. I’m sorry for the people disrupted but if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have got a climate emergency declared.
P: Was anything stopping you moving from the ground at Oxford Circus?
Me: What was stopping me moving was the need to stand in the way of the government’s failure to act to protect its citizens and God’s creation.
P: Why didn’t you move to Marble Arch?
Me: It wouldn’t have been as effective at Marble Arch.
P: Do you not agree that the police have to protect the community from disruption?
Me: I accept it’s a balancing act for the police but I think they came down on the wrong side.
P: Why did you choose Oxford Circus?
Me: It’s an important landmark and also the centre of consumerism which is part of the reason why we have got to this point.
Prosecutor: Do you think this is a court of law or a court of morality?
Me: (broke down in tears}
Judge: That is not a fair question
Me: No, it’s a good question.
Judge: Well I will answer it for you then – it is a court of law.
Why was it I was composed and controlled until that one question from the perfectly polite prosecutor? Why was ‘Do you think this is a court of law or a court of morality?’ so shocking, so unexpected and so humiliating? It found me out in my naivety – that I had got it all wrong. I thought I had been talking to human beings, with a sense of right and wrong, with compassion for others, love of beauty and the will to survive as a species. What hope is there if the box we find ourselves in means we will never listen to the still small voice that I believe is in all of us? When I had half-composed myself with the tissues and water I was kindly brought by my interrogator (I wished I had waited longer so my voice was less like a spoilt school girl), I continued:
Me: There is a recent book called ‘There’s no planet B’ by Mike Berners-Lee. In it, he suggests one of the key requirements for a safe future is that we all take our consciences to work. This is about our ability to survive on this planet. This is all too important, too vital, too impossible to be left to a bunch of environmentalists like me.
That was the end of my evidence. Then it was time to ‘sum up’. The prosecutor had nothing to say. I was allowed to read my statement. I’m not sure I read all of it – but this is what I was intending to read.
There is a law in this country that obliges the government to respond to climate change and an independent body that advises it how to do that.
This Committee on Climate Change has established that the Government is failing to comply with the Climate Act, causing significant damage and disruption. The senior officer did not know about this law and did not know the scale of damages caused by this failure to respect the law.
This ignorance renders the Section 14 invalid because he overestimated the relative seriousness of the mild disturbance from my peaceful testimony in Oxford Circus, failing to consider the graver well documented disruption caused by the inadequate response to climate change.
S14 should also not have been issued because it interferes with the absolute right to life that this protest was protecting. The fact that Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency as a direct result of this protest proves I was justified in taking the action I did.
The danger is imminent. One year ago, the head of the UN, perhaps the best briefed person in the world on climate said ‘we face a direct existential threat’. He gave us until 2020 to change course. All this talk about disruption of ordinary life of the community is a distraction to the core issue for humanity at this moment in our history which is the massive loss of life that is happening now in the Global South and is predicted to accelerate to apocalyptic proportions. This is not any protest. Our children need all people of conscience to work to this end – in government, business, public service, even the courts, or we are not going to make it. We all need to listen to that still small voice.
My job as a follower of Jesus and a mother is to do what is necessary to protect this beautiful world and my children. I would have been grossly negligent and irresponsible if I had not taken this action to protect life.
The Judge retired a short time to consider. These notes give more details of what he said.
The main points were that I wasn’t stopped from protesting – I could have gone to Marble Arch. He also said that he accepted all that comes from my point of view about climate change.
He said he was required by law to find me guilty. The prosecution asked for a £620 contribution to costs and I was given a conditional discharge for 12 months.
‘I encourage you to lawfully protest,’ he said, ‘but it must be lawful. Keep out of trouble for one year.’
We left the court. Relieved, thankful for all the prayers and support from so many people. Just a little disappointed. All the preparation for the trial had convinced me of my innocence, that it cannot be right for a police officer to be so dismissive of future suffering compared to present inconvenience.
We went for a cup of tea. Everyone made a fuss of me. I felt very loved.
Ruth’s account was first published on Christian Climate Action’s website.