Shropshire Star

Protesters risk arrest 'defending the rights of juries' outside Shrewsbury Crown Court

Protesters risked arrest outside Shrewsbury Crown Court in a campaign to "defend the rights of juries".

Protestors outside Shrewsbury Crown Court

The group staged a silent vigil outside the county's main court as part of a national day of action organised by the Defend Our Juries campaign.

They held signs highlighting the centuries-old right of all jurors in British courtrooms to acquit a defendant according to their conscience, irrespective of the directions of the judge. No arrests were made.

The action was part of a day of national protest, with similar events happening at over 50 courts throughout England and Wales.

The Defend Our Juries campaign began after what they describe as "a wave of repression" in the courts that has seen defendants banned from explaining to the jury why they did what they did, including people being sent to prison for trying to explain their actions to the jury.

Defendants have also been told not to use the phrases "climate change" and "fuel poverty" after several environmental protests, including at banks which invest in fossil fuels.

Defendants have also been banned from explaining the principle of "jury equity" to jurors, even though it is a well established principle of law, which is set in marble at the original entrance to the Old Bailey.

Kate Griffith, a retired accountancy clerk from Much Wenlock, was among those protesting at Shrewsbury Crown Court. She said: "I am risking arrest because I believe our legal system has to let defendants tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in court. Jurors must have all the information they need in order to make their decisions.

"My grandfather was a high court judge and I know he would have supported my actions today. He instilled in me a sense of morality and a deep respect for our world famous British legal system. We cannot allow the centuries’ old rights of jurors to be undermined by political pressure."

Fellow protestor Jamie Russell, an author from Shrewsbury, added: "I was brought up to believe that the British legal system is the envy of the world. Yet today we are seeing the impartiality of the system threatened by political pressure.

"Defendants must have the right to explain their motivations when on trial; and jurors must be allowed to retain their centuries’ old right to follow their conscience after hearing all the evidence.

"Juries are an important safety valve, preventing abuse of the courts by those with an agenda. If juries can no longer perform that function, we are taking a massive step towards authoritarianism. History shows that winning our rights as citizens is a hard and difficult struggle, requiring many heavy sacrifices. Losing our rights, though, simply requires us to sit back and do nothing. I am here because I am not willing to watch our fundamental rights being stripped away."

By displaying their signs, the group risked arrest and imprisonment. In September, the Solicitor General announced he would prosecute 68-year retired social worker, Trudi Warner, for contempt of court, for holding a similar sign outside Inner London Crown Court in March. In October, two young women were arrested by the Met police for doing the same thing.