“’I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’ ‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first–‘. ‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’”.Alice through the Looking Glass.– Lewis Carroll
When she climbed the portico of the Department for Transport (DfT) with a hammer and chisel on 15 October 2019, Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook, like Alice, found herself in a looking glass world – one which inverts expectations of a logical reality, where riddles have no answers, clocks run backwards, and games have no rules. Declaring her principled opposition to HS2 and all its commensurate environmental desecration, Gail proceeded to crack the window causing, according to the DfT, £27,660 – and 21 pence worth of damage.
Inevitably, she was charged with criminal damage.
Very simply, without denying responsibility for the act, she pleaded not guilty, resting her defence on the precedent of ‘Necessity’, the right – nay duty – to do damage if the greater good is protection. She also hoped to convince a jury that a conviction would be a disproportionate interference with her right to protest under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Because courts are public institutions designed to serve the common good, they are the most effective forum for Conscientious Protectors to sound the alarm and to explain the reasons behind their civil disobedience.
The defence of Necessity was enshrined in law following the case of conjoined twins, the Attard sisters, where it was ruled it would be permissible to humanely kill the weaker twin to save the stronger one.
Because this defence asks people to make judgements about individual responsibility and the good of society, it is essentially a moral argument couched in the language of criminal law. However, this was an argument that was denied to Gail Bradbrook. The recent Public Order Act 2023 placed restrictions on defendants from mentioning the climate crisis or their motivations as part of their defence, while allowing the prosecution free rein to invoke negative stereotypes without allowing the opportunity to respond or rebut.
“‘What do you mean by that?’ said Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’ said the caterpillar. ‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir, said Alice.”
This brazen inequity has led Gail to a succession of engagements with Judge Edmunds who played the part of the White Queen with aplomb, asking Gail to give evidence while forbidding her to do so. Schrödinger with his cat would have understood, the rest of us not so much.
“‘Speak when you’re spoken to!’ the Queen sharply interrupted her. ‘But if everybody obeyed that rule,’ said Alice, who was always ready for a little argument, ‘and if you only spoke when you were spoken to, and the other person always waited for you to begin, you see nobody would ever say anything. So that – ’ ‘Ridiculous!’ cried the Queen.”
At the start of her first trial for this ‘offence’ on 17th July 2023, three years and four months after her arrest, Gail swore, in time honoured tradition, that the evidence that she would give would be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
But here the realm of logic ended and a succession of travesties, in all senses of the word, ensued.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
All of Gail’s evidence, presented pre-trial in a seventy five page document, was deemed inadmissible. Indeed Judge Edmunds suggested that telling ‘the whole truth’ would constitute jury tampering and threatened a juryless trial, should she have the temerity to give context to her actions or present a moral argument.
She was accused of “just wanting to invoke sympathy for cause”, a cause on which Gail was not allowed to elaborate or justify.
When, during that first trial, she objected that the Prosecution was allowed to portray an inaccurate account of her reasoning and motives, Judge Edmunds dismissed the Jury and the case collapsed.
With this grievance in mind, Gail moved for the Judge to recuse himself from the retrial. In the ensuing hearing, she became prosecutor, the prosecutor became the defence, and the Judge became the defendant. Judge Edmunds listened to the case brought against him of bias … and promptly found himself “not guilty”.
“‘That’s the effect of living backwards’ the Queen said kindly, ‘It always makes one a little giddy at first.’ ‘Living backwards’ Alice repeated in great astonishment, ‘I have never heard of such a thing.’”
Fast forward to 30th October 2023, a trial serendipitously set to take place during the fifth anniversary of Extinction Rebellion’s (XR’s) ‘Declaration of Rebellion’.
Judge Edmunds opened his ‘tea party’ by introducing the court staff by their first names as if they were cabin crew on a holiday shuttle and started the trial with, yet again, a request for a transcript of Gail’s proposed evidence so that he might “help” her with what she was allowed to say.
“‘It would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’ Said Humpty Dumpty.”
Gail thanked him for his kindness but declined his “help”.
During the opening statement by Ms Wilkinson for the prosecution, a fire alarm went off. Deaf to the exquisitely timed metaphor, the Judge paused, then advised the Jury to ignore it. The building may have been on fire but the prosecutor continued to concentrate on the cost of replacing the window.
The facility manager for the DfT, Gavin Buss, an example of impressive nominative determinism, was summoned in uniform, from his workplace to confirm the dimensions and value of the window. The exactitude of Ms Wilkinson’s emphasis on the twenty one pence in her opening salvo, in a trial concerning the end of life on Earth, was enough to convince us that she had drunk a potion to make her grasp very small.
“‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. […] You must be, or you wouldn’t be here’ said the Cheshire Cat”
In this looking glass world, it came as no surprise when Judge Edmunds gave back-to-front pre-emptive direction to the jury to ignore anything but the issue of the cracked window, a fact not disputed, just in case Gail slipped something past him.
“`Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!’”
However, in contrast to her first trial, Gail elaborated with finesse, ploughing through the frequent interjections and harrumphing from the bench, demonstrating that the best form of defence is attack.
“Climate change is not a cause, it is not a belief, it is a threat … a grave threat to my own life and that of my children,” she said, “My defence is that of a mother.”
When Judge Edmunds again attempted to rule out evidence of context and motivation, Gail pointed out that the Prosecution should also be prohibited from advancing unfounded assumptions.
She chided the Judge for his obduracy quoting George Orwell’s observation of the tendency of repressive law to degenerate into farce, when “truth becomes a lie and common sense is heresy”.
“‘It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played–all over the world–if this is the world at all, you know’ said Alice”
And so it was game on. Queen to King’s Pawn … Read more in Part Two.
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