Protest law

Protest and Survive

Moss & Co has extensive experience of representing protesters. From the Stop the City protests of the 1990s to animal rights cases and protests outside arms fairs. We have always sought to uphold principles of free speech and the right to protest.  We have argued that acts of protest, which would otherwise be crimes, are not so when they are a necessary and proportionate way to stop a greater crime being committed.

Trudie Warner has recently been referred for prosecution for contempt of court. Her crime was to hold up a sign advising jurors they had an absolute right to acquit.

She now faces trial by Judge alone. She would have had a much better chance before a jury.

The contempt relates to a ruling by a Judge that the defendants could not tell the jury about their motivations for causing criminal damage. Because he said their motivations did not provide a legal defence.

Most people who haven’t been paying attention to developments in this area of law might wonder how we got here. They might not recall giving any political party a mandate to make holding up a sign a crime.

It is getting harder and harder to argue that an otherwise criminal act was committed out of necessity. Acts of protest range from criminal damage to, more recently, interfering with national infrastructure such as blocking a road. Actions may be morally justifiable, but this does not currently mean it will provide a defence.

The current legal position is that you can only commit a crime to prevent one if:

  • The crime you seek to stop is a specific crime in English law.
  • You seek to prevent a crime being committed within the jurisdiction.
  • Your response  is a reasonable and proportionate response to the crime you seek to prevent.
  • You did not contribute to or cause the threat

This approach has been applied by the courts consistently over the last seventy years. Arguing that you are preventing such things as nuclear weapons, foreign wars and environmental destruction will  not provide a defence.

The Judge was following this line of authorities when ruling that the motivations for protesting could not be put before the jury.


I defended five people accused of blockading an arms fair in London. They were protesting because it was promoting weapons that could be used to cause civilian deaths. On the face of it, this was not a legal defence to their actions for the reason given above.

However, through careful consideration of the evidence and distilling the message we were able to put forward a defence that could be argued in law. We submitted that there was an item illegal in English law present at the fair. This meant the protesters could put forward their case before the Court. All of the protesters were found not guilty at the conclusion of the trial.


There is a growing movement to make ‘ecocide’ a crime in international law. Ecocide is defined here

It makes it a crime to intentionally cause widespread destruction of the environment. Some countries have gone further and recognised it as a crime in national law

If it were made a crime in national law, then it could be used as a means for protesters to put forward their arguments in English courts.

The Labour party has indicated tentative support for this. The Human Rights Act 1998 is a precedent for a new government, riding the crest of a victory, bringing in a law that has wide ranging effect in the legal arena.


We will attend the police station day and night to represent protesters. Call David Barnett or Gil Spurling on 0208 986 8336.

Gil Spurling

David Barnett

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