It’s an apt question. Activists who are against corporate greed and for global justice have been peacefully camped outside St Paul’s for a fortnight now. The activists have at all times co-operated with Cathedral officials, and were pleased that the Cathedral decided to open again yesterday (Friday 28 Oct).
There is something highly symbolic about protesting in front of an institution that has as its central aim to spread Christ’s message of love throughout the world. Jesus was particularly concerned with the poor, the dispossessed, the outcasts and the marginalised in society. Such poor, dispossessed, outcast and marginalised are represented and given a voice today by Occupy LSX.
According to the gospels, Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, his only act of violence. He would not be comfortable with the excessive consumerist society that we live in today, and the fact that the 1% live excessively lavish lifestyles whilst many millions suffer in poverty. He would not be happy that corporations wield such influence over people’s lives and have become a devasting force against people and planet.
All this suggests that Jesus would be camped with Occupy London Stock Exchange, if he were around today.
The presence of the activists has deeply divided the Cathedral. Occupy LSX was deeply moved at the resignation of Canon Chancellor Rev Dr Giles Fraser, who would not stand by the Cathedral’s decision to pursue legal action that may authorise violence against the activists. He is not the only one, Fraser Dyer, a chaplain at St Paul’s, also listened to his conscience and decided to resign, being ‘embarrassed’ at the decision taken by the Dean and Chapter.
Jesus spoke up for the oppressed in society
I want to turn back to the theme of speaking up for the oppressed because it’s highly relevant from a wild law perspective. Human beings co-evolved with millions of other species. These other species are our kith and kin in a hard scientific sense, as well as in the poet’s sense (“the poetry of the Earth is never dead,” wrote Keats. Keats, like many others throughout history, recognised that Nature has soul).
In short, Nature has no voice in our society, so we must speak up for Nature. The trees, the rivers, the animals – they have rights too. They are stakeholders in this beautiful new democracry emerging.
We urgently need to reconnect with Nature. This Earth provides everything that we need to live well and is the source of our nourishment. We need a new governance system which acknowledges the inherent value of all life and promotes, as the overriding objective, the flourishing of life on Earth. To be clear: life flourishing comes before the economy. We need to move away from a narrative that places the economy above everything else.
A good starting point for this new governance is the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which is being advocated at international level by Bolivia. Bolivia needs our help in this, so please sign the petition to get this groundbreaking legal text adopted at the Earth Summit next year.
The Declaration sets out a blueprint for a new social model, premised on co-operation with and respect for nature. Many thousands of people all over the world look to Nature as the source of inspiration.
“teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother”
Keep up the good work Occupy LSX, and remember you represent all life, not just the poor and oppressed humankind who have no voice, but the oppressed non human species who are also part of the Earth Community.
28-10-2011 UPDATES Family fun day at Occupy LSX on Saturday 29 October – head over to the tent university and learn about the new democracy. This university doesn’t cost £9000!
Boris Johnson Mayor of London has reportedly called for new laws to stop protests like this one. Such a move should be resisted, it is deeply undemocratic and a breach of our fundamental right.
The Cathdral’s decision to take legal action against protestors was announced yesterday (Friday 28 Oct). The City of London Corporation had announced that it was also seeking legal action on the same day.
Law firm Winckworth Sherwood is acting for St Paul’s, and whilst Bindmans represents Occupy LSX, with advice from John Cooper QC. Bindmans and John Cooper are acting pro bono.
In a Guardian poll, 88.2% of people supported the protest.
by Melanie Strickland
The Occupy London Stock Exchange movement represents our (latest) best opportunity to get real change. Walking around St Paul’s this weekend was like walking around a giant art exhibition – everywhere was information, posters, calls to action, in other areas mini workshops, music, a library, a tent university, a kitchen and much more. The general public are welcomed. An inspiring community has emerged, and it’s made up of people of varied backgrounds, ages and ethnicities.
They are calling for our broken democracy to be fixed. They are angry at corporate greed, at corrupt politicians and the Corportisation of Everything. They have a Declaration, agreed democratically which is a work in progress and will be updated and refined on an ongoing basis as the movement continues to evolve. Each day a general assembly is held, open to anyone, where important issues affecting the collective are discussed and decisions made. A series of working groups have been set up, from the kitchen and toilets to legal observers and a tent university half term programme to educate the young. It’s amazing to be part of this. I urge anyone who can stop by and find out about this beautiful movement to go along to both St Paul’s and the Finsbury Square occupations. The press are generally understating the importance of this movement and are not reporting fairly, as demonstrated by this witty sketch.
So what’s the significance of this for wild lawyers? Well, law has a lot to do with justice and this movement aims to bring about global justice for all. The system is bust. Laws are serving coporate interests not planet and people. As Julian Assange said in his address to St Paul’s on Saturday 15 Oct, this is about the construction of law (starts 27 mins in – the repetition of the crowd is the ‘human mic’ ).
We need a completely new legal system which acknowledges Earth as the primary lawgiver. This movement needs to go deep. It’s not just about massively limiting the power of corporates, necessary though that is. It’s beyond people getting their ‘fair share of the pie’ – if that’s only considered in human terms. That still implies exploitation of this beautiful planet. We must build a new world based on an Earth democracy – we humans must be a benign presence on this planet. The amazingly diverse community of life on Earth – including the trees, the animals, the rivers, the mountains… they are all stakeholders in this too. Let’s bring them to the heart of this debate!
Occupy LSX welcomes donations of food/ money/ other useful stuff – take these to the Info tent at St Paul’s or Finsbury Square
Occupy4Life – please get in touch
by Andrea Gear
The UK Supreme Court hears appeal cases of huge constitutional significance, the outcomes of which often ricochet through the political arena, challenging the status quo, and shifting societal perceptions. It is fitting then, that on 30th September 2011 this grand building in Parliament Square provided a stage for the hearing of Regina v Bannerman & Tench. In this mock trial, two CEO’s stood accused of aiding and abetting the crime of ‘ecocide’.
Currently just a conceptual crime, ecocide has been submitted to the UN for consideration as the fifth crime against peace (alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity). For those of you not yet familiar with the concept, ecocide is ‘the extensive damage, destruction to, or loss of ecosystems of a given territory……to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished’.
It was apparent that an historic day was going to unfold when the prosecuting QC Michael Mansfield swept into the courtroom with a copy of Polly Higgin’s book ‘Eradicating Ecocide’ tucked under his gown. With the Jury sworn in and a suitably grave-faced Judge in place the indictment was read aloud, detailing three counts of ecocide contrary to the (fictional) Ecocide Act 2010. The crimes involved one scenario identical to that of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and two incidents relating to the extraction of oil from tar sands. The particulars of all three counts involved the death of, and risk of injury to birdlife. The accused pleaded not guilty, generating a bout of jeering from the public gallery!
The first hurdle was encountered almost immediately when the defence asserted that the fictional indictment had been wrongly interpreted from the imagined statute. Fortunately the judge overruled this objection as he was of the opinion that Parliament’s intention was clear and unequivocal in this regard! Despite the pretend criminals, the fabricated evidence, a voluntary jury and not a pen stroke from the legislature, there was genuine frustration, anticipation and tension in the gallery, and a tangible feeling that there was very much something at stake.
For the next few hours the prosecution and defence cross-examined (real) expert witnesses, and ridiculed and undermined each others’ arguments. There were moments of derision when the defence had to ‘scrape the barrel’, arguing that thousands of dead oiled birds may have encountered the oil post-mortem, and that oil wasn’t necessarily the cause of death. But there were also moments of concern when each of us in the courtroom realised that some arguments, although absurd to an ecologist, might sound plausible to the average juror. For example, the defence argued that oil leaks naturally from fissures in the Earth’s crust, and is a natural product broken down by microbial activity, implying that ‘a little extra’ in the oceans as the result of a spill is not really all that significant. The defence even tried to put a positive spin on the crime his client was accused of, arguing that after an oil spill, where a no fishing zone is declared, the fish stock return to a higher than pre-oil spill level!
The prosecution’s attempt to bully the accused into a vile anti-nature outburst was stunted by the CEO’s sickeningly humble and deeply remorseful tone (he was an excellent actor!). Prosecution points with the Jury were soon regained however, when the accused callously remarked that in order to make an omelette a few eggs had to be broken. QC Michael Mansfield quickly retorted that this was indeed unfortunate for the eggs!
After a tense few hours the court adjourned to allow the jury time to reach a verdict. Meanwhile, in the Lawyer’s Suite, silks and wigs were tossed aside for tea and cake, and lively debates erupted around the room. Discussions were a strange hybrid of legal jargon, ecology, and raw passion, but the common theme was progress. Progress underpinned by a recognition that our political, economic and social systems need to be permeated with an ethos of earth jurisprudence and recalibrated accordingly.
Returning to the courtroom to hear the verdict delivered the muttering crowd expressed many doubts about whether it would be a victory for Gaia. This was not simply because the two leading barristers were equally matched intellectual titans, but because the material was complex and controversial, the situation novel, and the jurors were not a horde of eco-warriors. On the first count, concerning extensive damage to the ecosystem as a result of the oil spill, the accused were acquitted (audible gasps of disbelief!). On the second and third counts, concerning death and risk of injury to birds through tar sand extraction activities they were found guilty (audible cheers!).
The crowd, which had amassed to over 100 by this point, then migrated to the Supreme Court library for a press conference. This was a particularly fascinating part of the day, in which burning questions were answered, and rousing speeches delivered. Polly Higgins likened her struggle to that of William Wilberforce, Michael Mansfield called upon all of us, as trustees of the planet to maintain the trust, and I heard Ghandi’s wise words ‘be the change’ circulate the room more than once. I cannot speak for all who were present, but for my part I left the UK Supreme Court convinced that if the UN recognises ecocide as an international crime (one small amendment to the Rome Statute, requiring 86 signatures is all that is required) then the rules of the game will change rapidly. This will initiate a shift in the corporate world’s collective consciousness and subsequent actions – a shift that Earth and her people so desperately need.
Below I have summarised some of the main threads of discussion I picked up on throughout the day. Feedback on these points via the blog would be most welcome. There is also a link to a blog by a Guardian journalist, followed by some interesting comments from the general public.
At the press conference concern was expressed that the prosecution had found it far too easy to trivialise the crime of ecocide and create a false sense of perspective. For example, one of the CEO’s was accused of causing the death of over 1600 birds, after they landed in his company’s toxic tailing pond. The defence argued that when one considers the number of birds eaten by cats each year in the US (100m) or the numbers that die on collision with windows (900m), this number is negligible. To most of us this is an absurd line of argument. Millions of people die from starvation each year, but no lawyer would dare argue that this negates the seriousness of the 2,000 people poisoned by a company dumping toxic waste. Nonetheless, concern remains that a gullible juror would be easily led with such statistics.
Another widespread concern was that the level of ecological understanding required from the lawyers, Judge and Jury, in order for nature to have a fair trial, is considerably higher than those groups typically possess. Add into this equation the chemistry of toxic dispersants, meteorological oceanography, avian migration and nutrient cycling in boreal forests, and it becomes difficult to see how the communication dynamics between expert witness, barrister and Jury might work. However, it was generally agreed that if such crimes of ecocide were really to go to trial the process would be considerably longer than a day, and parties would be well advised.
Aside from the technicality of the evidence and its contextual framework, certain wording of the Ecocide Act 2010 also generated some problems for the prosecution. It was stated early on by the judge that the jury were to understand ‘extensive damage’ to ecosystems against 3 criteria; size, duration, and impact. Unfortunately this gave the defence too much manoeuvrability. Post-trial I spoke to the head juror, who informed me that the defence’s closing statement had convinced them that the size (250 million gallons released from a point source), duration (4 months), and impact (highly debateable) of the oil spill did not amount to ecocide. This led to an acquittal on one count, which although disappointing helped to flag up the weaknesses in the Act. Polly remarked that this was an extremely positive aspect of the exercise, as she could redraft the proposed legislation accordingly.
In court, the concept of a duty of care to the environment wasn’t mentioned, and the prosecution had no interest in proving negligence. This was because the trial proceeded on the basis of strict liability – that the accused was liable for the damage caused regardless of personal fault. Polly Higgins explained her reasons for putting the company executive in the stand rather than the company itself. Fining a company for flouting environmental regulations under civil law will not be sufficient deterrent she argued. Profits gained from destructive practices are too lucrative for such practices to be derailed by nominal fines, and a monetary punishment will be passed on to consumers of that product, which sadly, in the case of fossil fuels, is all of us. However, the threat of a prison sentence is not one that could be easily ignored by a company’s top personnel, and the universality of the crime would mean that the UK had jurisdiction to prosecute, regardless of where the crime was committed. By imposing this superior responsibility, business leaders could be encouraged to adopt the precautionary principle, rather than throwing money at the aftermath. All agreed that preventative measures to avoid an incident of ecocide ever occurring is an optimal solution for all involved, particularly the planet.