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possible landmark socpa verdict due on friday

rikki | 07.06.2006 10:28 | SOCPA | Repression | Social Struggles | London

war law specialist chris coverdale appeared at bow street magistrate's court yesterday in connection with an 'unauthorised' protest at parliament square in march. his extensive and well-researched defence raised questions about the legality of the war, and the judge will announce his verdict at 10am on friday.

on march 29th this year, war law specialist chris coverdale used a megaphone and held a banner in parliament square. he was trying to report the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and attempting to effect the arrest of the offenders, tony blair et al, who were in westminster for prime minister's question time on that morning.

he was arrested by police and charged, under the serious organised crime and police act, with carrying on a demonstration without authorisation, and using a megaphone (which is banned at any time under the law).

when he appeared at bow street magistrate's court yesterday morning, he presented a fully researched legal defence which if accepted will throw the socpa law once again into disarray and have huge possible implications for brian haw's continuing protest in the square.

with legal matters, the detail and wording are so important. as i am not a lawyer i will try to give an overview of the arguments here and hope that i don't misrepresent something in the process.

chris presented three seperate lines of defence as follows.

firstly, under section 3 of the criminal law act, it is a defence in law to show that a smaller crime was committed in order to attempt to prevent a larger crime from occuring. (an example would be if you saw a rape going on through a window and you broke into the building to try to stop it. if charged with breaking and entering it would be a lawful defence to show you were preventing the rape and you would be found not guilty.) chris' argument is that he was committing the socpa offences while attempting to report and effect the arrest of offenders of much larger crimes. this defence relies on the claim that tony blair et al committed crimes under the international criminal court act as well as domestic law. while the crime of 'agression' is not defined here, and 'waging war' is not considered a crime under domestic law, the crimes of 'genocide', 'war crimes', and 'crimes against humanity' are regarded as such heinous international crimes that they can override any domestic legislation. also, 'murder', 'conspiracy to murder' and 'conduct ancillary to murder' are of course crimes under domestic law. these were the crimes that chris highlighted with his actions that day, and he was doing this as near to the offenders as he could get.

secondly, chris argued that he was acting in accordance with principles established after world war two at nuremberg. this is where, famously, the defence that 'i was just following orders' was thrown out in dealing with nazi perpertrators. under these principles, chris showed that he was pursuing his legal duty to disobey the british government in order to prevent the illegal war of aggression against the people of iraq.

finally, referring to defence arguments set in a precedent case by lord wolff, chris showed that his action was 'of necessity' and he was 'acting under duress of circumstances' to prevent the greater evil of the deaths of thousands of iraqis as well as british servicemen and women. lord wollf put four conditions in his ruling and chris coverdale showed that he complied with all of them, namely that (a) his action was taken in order to prevent a greater evil act, (b) the greater evil was directed at people whom chris had a reasonable duty of care towards, (c) that his own action was reasonable and proportionate (chris argued that using a megaphone illegally was considerably smaller proportionately than using a cruise missile illegally!), and (d) he was driven to act in order to prevent harm about to happen.

the magistrate said he had a lot to think about and so adjourned the case until friday morning when he will give his decision at bow street at 10am.

if found guilty, chris will immediately appeal to a higher court. if found innocent under these legal arguments, it has huge implications for the trials of brian haw and other peace activists, as well as throwing aspects of the socpa law into unworkable disarray, including the banning of megaphones.

verdict will be announced here of course, but if you wish to support chris, then please gather outside the court at 9.30am on friday (9th june).

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  1. Brilliant work — Simon Johnson