Wednesday, May 23, 2007

B52 Two not guilty

Jury decides - not-guilty: intention to damage US bombers destined for Iraq was lawful

On Tuesday 22 May, at Bristol Crown Court, the trial of two Oxford peace activists Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch (known as the 'B52 Two') concluded with the jury returning a unanimous verdict of not-guilty- in less than three hours.

This was the first retrail of fairford disarmers, as all three earlier trials resulted in undecided juries.

The next retrial will be of Josh Richards, scheduled to start on 30 May, and Margaret Jones and Paul Milling – who non-violently disabled three tankers used for refuelling the bombers – from 2 July. All trials will take place from 10am at Bristol Crown Court, The Law Courts, Small Street, BS1 1DA. Please be there to support them if you can.

Philip Pritchard is 36 years old, and a self employed carpenter and father. Toby Olditch is 38 years old, and a self employed builder. They both live in Oxford. The two men were arrested inside the perimeter fences at RAF Fairford in the early morning of 18 March 2003, just two days before the bombing of Iraq started. They carried with them tools to damage the planes, nuts and bolts to jam the aircrafts engines, pictures of ordinary Iraqi civilians and paint symbolizing blood and oil. They also carried warning signs for attaching to any damaged planes which would help alert aircrew to their action. The two men acted nonviolently in a way which would not result in harm to anyone, including the military personnel at Fairford. They intended to stay with the planes and tell the operators what they'd done.

The two were charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 18 March 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq[1]. The court heard the two men acted to prevent damage to life and property in Iraq, and war crimes by the aggressors.

The trial started on Monday 14 May 2007. This is the second trial for the alleged offence; the first in October 2006 ended in a hung jury, after 12 hours of deliberation spread over three days. The two accused were facing up to ten years in jail. There are two other similar cases awaiting re-trial, due to hung juries, at Bristol crown court.

The two activists maintain that war crimes were committed in the bombing as cluster bombs, which spread unexploded bomblets that kill and maim civilians (like mines) were used, as were 'bunker busting' bombs tipped with depleted uranium that fragments, spreading radioactive toxins which are harmful to civilians.

During the trial the prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers would have prevented civilian casualties, as it would have allowed those fleeing cities more time to escape. In his hour and a half summing up today, Justice Crowther explained the legal tests that must be met for the prosecution to succeed, he reiterated the facts and summarised the evidence. A document 'steps to verdict' had been provided to assist the jury.

Toby Olditch said "We're overjoyed, and thankful for the good sense of the jurors, for the wonderful support we've received, and for the commitment and expertise of our legal representatives. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people have still suffered as a result of the Government's actions. It shouldn't have come to the point that people had to take direct action to try to check the abuse of executive power."

Phil Pritchard "I am delighted that the jury have returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict. Our action in trying to prevent illegal attacks on the people of Iraq in 2003 is vindicated. I hope war of this kind never happens again."


Phil said...

Great news.

Bet you someone gets up and says that cases like this shouldn't go before a jury - juries can't be expected to understand these complex cases involving issues of national security...

AN said...

Phil - you are a lawyer of some sort aren't you? The ouse of Lords case was significnat and shoulsd be in the All England Law Reports.

The interesting thing about these cases is they have already been to the House of Lords, to decide whether they could plead lawful excuse that they were citizens acting to prevent an illegal act.

The Law Lords ruling agianst them turned on the fact that the English Courts were not competent to decide the illegality of the war under international law, and left that question undecided, but said that under English Law there was no such thing as an illegal war.

At Crown Court the facts were undisputed, and the jury had to decide mens rea The case turned on whether the defendents genuinely believed that they were morally entitled to commit these acts of sabotage to prevent illegal killing.

Which is subtly different from lawful excuse, I suppose

Phil said...

The Law Lords ruling agianst them turned on the fact that the English Courts were not competent to decide the illegality of the war under international law, and left that question undecided, but said that under English Law there was no such thing as an illegal war.

I don't like the sound of that. Any more details to identify the case?

Rob said...

Sounds like Jones and Others. It's really a question about the relationship of national and international law. The courts basically accepted that customary intenational law formed a source of international law. So, this means that the relationship between CIL and English law is complex and not automatic.

They didn't deny the existence of an international crime of aggression in international law, only that it is not 'automatically' incorporated into national law. They then noted that constitutionally following Knuller the judiciary is not allowed to create new crimes.

Crimes therefore need to be contained in statutes enacted by Parliament. So in this sense English law does not represent a national crime of aggression (bearing in mind we still think it's an international crime). There are also problems about the English judiciary judging the conduct of another state.

This is all in the judgment of Lord Bingham, and is mostly straightforward. I'm not sure I disapprove of it that much, as the idea of the judiciary being able to declare crimse not in statutory form is always a worry (look at what they have done with torts). Hoffman's judgment is, erm, a litle dodgy.

So yeah, I dunno if that helps.

Phil said...

I'm just wondering where the non-automaticity thing leaves this argument, which I had thought Daniel won hands down.

Rob said...

Hmmmm. The argument around that blog post is a little odd. This is because it seems to really be talking about questions of jurisprudence or legal theory. So the question of whether an international act can be legal/illegal is a fairly dense one.

But if you leave that aside then it doesn't matter. International law, and therefore the crime of agression is 'binding' upon the UK *as a state*. This is because the primary agent in international law is the nationstate and her representatives.

This is a separate question as to the existence of the crime in national law. Specifically the question is about whether in their *national capacity* national courts can prosecute someone for a breach of national law. This issue is decided by the constitutional principles. In Jones and Other it was said that according to UK constitutional principles international law is not automatically part of our national law.

But this does not impinge upon whether the war was illegal, or whether the UK was bound by international law. All it means is that, since it doesn't enter national law, individuals can't be prosecuted for the crime or raise it as a defence in a national court.

But if a case was brought to the ICJ this was a different case entirely.