22 February 2011

by Melanie Strickland

On 22 February 2011 six conscientious activists were found guilty of aggravated trespass at Trafford Magistrates Court, following their direct action at Manchester Airport in May 2010, to highlight the threat of climate change and the contribution of the airport to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The activists had pleaded not guilty on the basis that the action was necessary to prevent death and serious injury caused by emissions.

There have been a number of cases in recent years involving activists putting forward a defence of necessity. On the whole these have been unsuccessful. But the guilty verdicts of these decent, otherwise law abiding people leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Isn’t it time we started questioning our legal system, which legitimises and indeed facilitates environmental destruction on a large and small scale. The Manchester Airport on Trial activists felt that they had no other option but to take direct action – they said that they were ignored and ‘fobbed off’ by Manchester City Council.  They were not able to bring a judicial review of the expansion plans due to the costs involved. Is this ‘justice’?

What can be inferred from the expert testimony for the defendants is that we are badly failing in our duty of care towards the planet. This is having far reaching consequences for all life on earth. Laws must change so that human behaviour is regulated to ensure the health and integrity of the Earth in the long term. Anything less means climate injustice for the many, and prevents human beings from achieving their full potential in the community of life on Earth.