Threat to Rule of Law Undermines Democracy Itself
Are the courts being pressured by business interests to find climate activists guilty?
A 350 year old rule of British law is under threat, and with it our very democracy itself.
Before giving evidence in court, every witness must either swear (if they are religious) or ‘solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm’ if they are not religious, that the evidence they are about to give shall be ‘the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’
But recent rulings in the British courts have not only gagged witnesses and defendants to prevent them from telling ‘the whole truth’ but have even imprisoned them for attempting to give reasons and context for their actions.
For 350 years, juries have had the right, inalienable in law, to acquit defendants according to their conscience. Democracy itself rests on the right to a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers. It is this very pillar of democracy which is now under threat.
To understand the context and the seriousness of the situation, we must go back to the year 1670, when two Quakers, William Penn and William Mead, were arrested for allegedly addressing an unlawful assembly.
Back in those days, an unlawful assembly was any religious assembly of more than five people outside the umbrella of the Church of England. Mead and Penn were accused of addressing such an assembly.
Originally charged simply with ‘speaking in Gracechurch Street’ the judge had modified the charge to ‘speaking in Gracechurch Street to an unlawful assembly’. Whilst the jury did initially find the two men guilty of ‘speaking in Gracechurch Street’ they refused to add ‘to an unlawful assembly.’
The judge was furious and demanded that the jury would not be dismissed until they produced a verdict which the court found acceptable. When the jury still refused to add ‘to an unlawful assembly’ to the verdict, the judge ordered them locked up, without food, water or heating for two days.
He ordered Penn bound and gagged, but not before Penn managed to address the jury, shouting, ”You are Englishmen, mind your Privilege, give…