Day 4 of the DSEI trial

Friday, April 15, 2016

Everyone was in very good cheer this morning and ready for another day in court.

We started with expert evidence from Kat Hobbs, who is Local outreach coordinator for CAAT (The Campaign Against the Arms Trade), an organisation which was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize in 2012.

She discussed how DSEI is organised Clarendon and the UK Trade and Investment, a government department to support UK Trade; but 54% of their staff are devoted to working on defence and security, and a key part of that work is organising and supporting arms fairs around the world.

To editorialise I find it shocking and appalling that over half of the body to promote UK trade is devoted to the arms industry, no wonder other industries are struggling.

Arms fairs are “meet and great” events for relationship building and so that customers can see what they might be buying.  DSEI is one of largest in the world, which showcases everything (air, sea and land weapons).  61 countries formally invited by the government, and many more are invited by Clarendon who advertise it as a “Place to do business”.  Of those 61 14 are classified as being authoritarian and 6 are at war, including Saudi Arabia; A country on the list of those raising most concern for human rights abuse.

The memorandum of understanding between the UK government and Clarendon says that the government will chaperone delegates around the fair.  Asked whether deals happen at the fair she pointed out that suites are provided for private discussions, so it is impossible to know everything that goes on.  However, at least one contract signed at fair between Turkish government and Lockheed Martin.

Moving on to illegality at the fair, she pointed to the Pakistan government promoting cluster bombs in 2009, which was discovered by civil society; not by either DSEI organisers or government agencies, with the result that the company was ejected, but no other action was taken, and they were allowed to return in 2011 when they were even more blatantly marketing them.  At another stand a journalist from the Independent newspaper was told quite openly that the objects on sale were for torture.

Kat also pointed out that there is a clear contradiction between selling arms to a country and then complaining about human rights abuse, especially as legal arms can be used illegally.  The government claims that they will not license where they are likely to be used for internal repression or external aggression, however they have been increasing numbers of arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia during Yemen conflict; even to the extent that is a marker against Saudi Arabia to more actively promote arms to them.

The UK government had actual knowledge of breaches of human rights law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen since at least May 2015 (ie well before DSEI), yet since start of conflict they have licensed at least £2.8 billion of arms.  Saudi Arabia is by far the largest consumer of British weapons and we are the largest supplier to them.  There has been a significant increase in the weapons sold since start of war which implies that they are being used in the conflict.

The attitude of the government to enforcement is extremely poor and has worsened with current government.  The government has never been interested in enforcing arms controls, and the parliamentary committee on arms control didn’t meet for the first nine months of the current parliament and the government needed to be pressed to allow it to start.  It is also now harder for independent observers to get into the fair;

For instance, Ollie Sprague was not allowed in this year.

Bahrain has bought £45 million of UK weapons since uprising in 2011. Whereas they only spent £6 million in the previous three years,

The Turkish government has not signed the convention on cluster weapons and have a stock pile of them.  They have carried out numerous human rights violations including collective punishment in Kurdish region; which have included curfews, shoot-to-kill, shelling of communities using Tanks, shells, ammunition supplied by Britain.

Despite this Turkey was the sole international partner at the arms fair and had their own tent and delegation, which amongst other things exhibited military tear gas

Next on the stand was Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for rights and democracy (BIRD).  In 2011 Mr Alwadaei was imprisoned and tortured for taking part in a peaceful protest calling for reform.  BIRD is a small organisation that monitors human rights in Bahrain, The UK government’s relationship with Bahrain and, works with other human rights organisations active in Bahrain. Bahrain is a hereditary absolute monarchy and all important ministers are family members.  Anyone calling for reforms imprisoned and tortured.

In 2011 there was a massive protest movement, the biggest in Bahrain’s history.  Many thousands protested and were crushed with force which included forces from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed.

UK is one of key arms suppliers to Bahrain.  In 2011 tear gas canisters and armed vehicles being used Saudi Arabian forces in Bahrain came from the UK.  The tear gas was weaponised, and used against peaceful protesters causing many of the deaths.  Excessive use of tear gas was also used as collective punishment, by using it not just against protestors but on whole surrounding areas.

Shot guns and buckshot have been used against protestor, including from very close range. Dozens of people, including a 14 year old have been killed by shotgun

Mr Alwadaei has himself been exposed to gunshots.

Despite this Bahrain was invited to DSEI in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

In October 2014 the High Court quashed the diplomatic immunity of Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa because of allegations of torture.  Despite this he has been a regular visitor to the UK since then, including in Oct 2014, but has never been arrested.  Showing the failure of the government to take action.

Working with HR watch.  2015 listed 14? Cases of torture and stated that the use of torture is systematic.

According to Amnesty Bahrain has imprisoned  21 high profile people for leading the protest.  And recorded cases of harsh torture, including of human rights defenders.  Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry: (BICI) report, commissioned by king, showed that the government was using torture and that confessions were extracted by torture resulting in life imprisonment and worse.

Bahrain one of the highest percentages of political prisoners, with 3,000-4,000 political in prisoners out of a population of 480,000.  Reporters Without Borders places Bahrain at 163 (alongside Somalia) in terms of a free press.

We then moved on to character references.  And all those presented showed that people were excellent and wonderful people; and I can assure that the others are.  Unfortunately, because my character references did not include the date of birth of the witnessed the prosecution would not accept them as they could not check that they were people of good character (ie not criminals).  My grateful thanks to Natalie Bennet, Sian Berry, Margaret Taylor, Juliet Goldbart and Malcolm Ryan for providing them.  They certainly made my head swell with statements like “He has a great commitment to the work of our party and its core principles of sustainability, social justice, peace and non-violence. I cannot vouch highly enough for his character and the upstanding nature of his work in the service of the community and the Green Party” from Sian and “I know that Tom has a concern and passion about the impact of promoting the arms trade and I share this concern which lead me to protest against the London arms fair myself, an event I consider to be against the security of the people of Britain.” From Natalie.

Fortunately, everyone seemed to agree that we were all of good standing anyhow and that as the judge put it to Susannah Mengesha, who had not produced any, “they are like one quarter of one cherry on the top of the cake in this case”.

Because the judge only wanted a summary of the statements which were gone through very quickly, my notes are poor so the following is merely an attempt at reconstruction.

Angela Ditchfield: At university while others were out drinking Angela was highly focused on what she wanted to do – to fight social injustice and be kind.  She is a stalwart of the local church, and cares passionately about justice and supporting families in Uganda

Javier Garate is trustworthy, truthful and committed to his principles including to resolution of conflict without violence.  He works to scale down arms trade.

Mr Rankin has never hurt anyone, is reliable and responsible and has campaigned against NATO activity.

Luis Javier Tinoco Torrejon is engaged in peace and solidarity and is always respectful to those who he works against, so very surprised to hear he had been arrested.

Angela Butler’s witnesses are impressed by the integrity of her moral belief, and she cares deeply about others and is kindest most sensitive and honest person the witness knows.

With that the defence closed and we moved on to legal arguments.

To be honest these were sometimes difficult to follow, especially the prosecution one.  In part because she was not always very coherent, she was also interrupted by the judge for clarification many times and she would just refer to something I don’t know (such as section 76 of the Criminal Justice Act 2008).  I will quote one part of this as there was a heated discussion between the judge and the prosecutor over what it might mean.

76Reasonable force for purposes of self-defence etc.

(3) The question whether the degree of force used by D was reasonable in the circumstances is to be decided by reference to the circumstances as D believed them to be, and subsections (4) to (8) also apply in connection with deciding that question.

(4) If D claims to have held a particular belief as regards the existence of any circumstances—

(a) the reasonableness or otherwise of that belief is relevant to the question whether D genuinely held it; but

(b) if it is determined that D did genuinely hold it, D is entitled to rely on it for the purposes of subsection (3), whether or not—

(i) it was mistaken, or

(ii) (if it was mistaken) the mistake was a reasonable one to have made.

It is worth remembering that this arose out of a couple of cases where householders were convicted of murder and manslaughter for killing burglars; but the point is that it allows the use of force to prevent crime.

First there was a discussion on the difference between clarification and codification (clarification changes things and makes them clear, while codification just brings order to what is).  If the act is codification, then it doesn’t affect previous case law; if it is clarification then it can.  The judge pointed out that the court of appeal describes it as clarification; therefore, Hoffman in Jones is out of date.

They then moved on to a discussion of sections 3 and 4, and whether the test required is “objective” (which I presume means what a reasonable person would think) or “subjective” (what the defendant thinks). The prosecutor was trying to argue that 4b still requires objective view and despite her three or four attempts to state it the judge would have none of it.  Several times he asked her for her authority for her opinion, and she could give none.

She then suggested that Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967[1] does not apply as we did not use sufficient force!  Wonderful I thought.  Those who chained themselves to lorries or gates might get off as they used force; whereas Isa and I who “merely” lay down in front of the tank could be convicted.  Would that not be truly ironic, and suggest that next time I will need to use greater force not to be convicted!

As the prosecutor said “The use of force may require chaining yourself to something; just lying in the road may not allow a section 3 defence” As the appeal says “if we allow for the sake of argument that chaining yourself to railings or putting sugar in a petrol tank is violence”.

She then argued that we cannot take action against as there is a presumption that the state is functioning effectively “a tight control over the use is force is necessary to prevent a slide into anarchy”.  The right to the use of force is even more prescribed where it is not ourself or our personal property (or close family). If we cannot get courts to intervene then we need to use democratic methods to effect change, not take the law into our own hands.

Judge asked is it illegitimate to look at what has actually happened? (ie that the laws are in place but the state has not enforced them). And he said that collateral effects (ie on bystanders) doesn’t of itself make action illegitimate eg searches at airports.

At that point the prosecutor rather lost it and suggested that if the defence of prevention of crime were allowed then we would be entitled to blow up a plane with arms destined for Saudi Arabia, or be entitled to arrest anyone with a DSEI badge in case they sell arms illegally.

She then argued that the crime is too remote from the action for the action to be allowed; and allowing this would result in anarchy.  “Where can one draw the line if the defence is allowed”

The defence then presented a more coherent case something like:

It would be absurd if it required the use force to be allowed the defence of preventing crime, and a lesser action did not allow such a defence.  And in any case force is minimal eg pushing a door that is already ajar requires force.  (I hope any physicists amongst you approve).

When considering the case, it must be assumed that the actions that the defendants were trying to stop would happen, and then

  1. a) Did the defendant honestly belief
  2. b) Was the force used reasonable –

Inconveniencing bystanders, even committing a lesser crime is allowed in the prevention of crime eg shoving someone out of the way (assault) to stop a killer is permitted.

Crime enforcement is duty of all not just the police.  The police are in fact just citizens in uniform.

There was then a discussion of two cases brought by Blackburn (a Labour MP and supporter of Lord Longford).  The Metropolitan police had an explicit policy to not enforce the gambling laws, and he took them to court over it.  I am not quite sure what the relevance of that was. In the other case (Blackburn 2) Blackburn went around Soho collecting porn, gave it to the police to prosecute; but they took no action.  Lord Denning said there was a gap that needed to be filled and it was reasonable for Blackburn to intervene.  The law recognises that in some cases self-help can be justified.  Only when there is no reasonable alternative.

My lawyer, Adeela Khan, suggested that I was applying force to road (which I guess while true would make the law of gravity a defence in the prevention of crime) or failing that I have a common law defence of preventing crime that predates the Criminal Law Act 1967.

I had achieved no action as a result of my political activity and therefore I had no other possibility than of taking action myself as non-direct action had made no difference, as stated by Olly Sprague.

We had clearly shown the nexus between that tank and Saudi Arabia, the largest buyer of UK arms and Bahrain also a large buyer.

Collateral damage very slight because cars and buses could move around the vehicle.

We were also reminded that it is for the prosecution to show that the weapons would not be used illegally, not for the defence to prove it.

At that the judge adjourned the case to tomorrow for his decision on the defence of prevention of crime.

If we are acquitted, it will end there.  If not, then we will present arguments on reasonableness and in the cases of Susannah and Lisa on whether it was a public highway.

Good article in the Guardian
And great Article in the Ham and High

[1] 3 Use of force in making arrest, etc.

(1) A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.

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