Being an activist usually means at some point in your activist career you will be committing some form of disobedience, be it civil or criminal. Ranging from trespassing in buildings highlighting tax avoiding corporations, locking on to lorries carrying chemicals into fracking sites, or obstructing entrances to highlight the sale of illegal torture equipment in our Capital city. What ever or how ever we protest we will be and should be working outside the establishment rules otherwise what’s the point ?
It’s a costly affair protest, from getting arrested, to having to attend bail dates, trips to the solicitors, then to court cases, delayed hearings, and fines. The thing about being arrested for an action and the following legal proceedings is that we will always plead not guilty because this isn’t about the law, this is about morals and ethics. We are doing this because we believe that our actions are valid. So the new “Criminal court charge” that was introduced through the back door this week is another attack on our right to protest.
These costs are not means tested and are across the board for whatever your “crime” We are all too aware of what a profitable business crime is for the establishment and you as a protester will be given the same court costs as a person that has violently attacked somebody. So for an activist that has somehow crossed the line i.e. entered the Arms Fair and refuses to leave protesting about the illegal sale of torture equipment by an exhibitor, may then finds themselves in a magistrates court for aggravated trespass. Of course goes “Not Guilty” but subsequently found guilty, you will be expected to pay your fines of around £200 -£300 and also pay court costs of £520
So what’s going to happen? Will it be only rich people can protest? Are we going to see protesters unable to carry on protesting because they are in debt bondage to the courts. “Sorry I can’t come to stop the Arms dealers till I pay off my debt to the courts” Are orders going to be made against earnings, benefits, possessions? Is this going to put people off protesting? Are people going to be pushed to pleading guilty so as to not incur such high costs. Pleading guilty at a magistrates only costs you a mere £150 a snip of the cost.
So with cuts in legal aid and now court costs we seem to have one legal system for them and one for us. The rich versus the poor. And it’s not going to get any easier. So what can we do? We could create a legal aid type funding system through the help of benefactors, philanthropists, and funding. Or we could just up our game become more militant and make sure we don’t get “court” .
To quote Netpol………..
The potential impact of the new Criminal Court Charge is one more reason why campaign organisers need to ensure they ask for legal observer support at their protests – and why, if you can help, we need more people to train and volunteer to carry out this important supporting role.