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Sussex Students Union supports Smash EDO activists denied legal aid

Andrew Beckett | 22.05.2008 07:45 | Smash EDO | Anti-militarism | Repression | Terror War | London | South Coast

University of Sussex Student Union has backed the five Sussex students that have been denied legal aid by Brighton magistrates court. The five, part of a group of seven on trial, were denied legal aid on the basis that as students they are "intelligent enough to represent themselves".

Seven anti arms trade activists, six current and one ex-student, who blockaded the gates of EDO MBM, a weapons manufacturer in Home Farm Road Brighton, have been denied legal aid.

The protesters, are being taken to court for aggravated trespass, an imprisonable offence, and appeared at Brighton Magistrate's Court on Tuesday morning. They have been denied legal aid on the grounds that "they are intelligent enough to represent themselves". That the students, all in their first year of study of disciplines not related to law, are now required to discuss issues of international law was discredited by the magistrate as a justification for legal aid. The basis for such a judgment is founded on the belief that as university students the defendants exhibit ample intelligence to defend themselves in court.

The University of Sussex Students’ Union is aghast at the manipulation of an individuals’ student status in order to restrict their rights to qualified legal assistance and representation. The legal aid scheme in this country is currently facing large scale reform and this case potentially creates precedent for further discrimination against students whether politically active or not.

USSU Education Officer said “That students are being denied legal assistance simply because they are students is disgraceful. A fair and public trial is a human right. When students take on international arms dealers without legal representation it is laughable to claim that the proceedings could be fair or equal. At a time when civil liberties are under attack nationally, this court is specifically targeting students as an isolated and disempowered group.”

Today in court the students attempted to appeal the decision stating that the legal issues involved in the case were of sufficient complexity as to warrant qualified legal assistance. The presiding magistrate claimed that the issues highlighted by SmashEDO’s solicitor were within the capabilities of the defendants. It is note worthy that the same magistrate had on a previous occasion removed himself from the bench when evidence of prejudicial behaviour on his part was brought before the court.

The court refused to accept that denying the protestors legal representation would lead to an imbalanced trial despite the fact that the students are now standing alone in their dispute with the EDO/ITT juggernaught and will be called on to cross examine the managing director of the company as well as police officers involved in the incident

One of the defendants said “this is clearly an infringement on our human rights to a free and fair trial. However, we won’t let them intimidate us and are determined to fight this trial until the end”.

The seven were arrested at a demonstration on 20th March 2008, the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq (See Previous Press Release - They formed a blockade by attaching themselves to the factory gates with lock-on tubes and bicycle d-locks. They took part in the blockade to highlight EDO MBM's role in the aerial bombardment of Iraq, which killed over 100 000 people. EDO MBM manufacture electrical components for the Paveway system of guided missiles, the most used guided munition in the aerial bombardment of Iraq according to Human Rights Watch.
The four year long campaign has sparked over fifty arrests, many of which have ended in failed prosecutions or acquittals.

Andrew Beckett, of Smash EDO, said "The demonstrators aimed to mark the anniversary of the invasion which has only made life worse for the ordinary people of Iraq. Since the invasion over one million people have died as a result of the bombing campaign and the internal chaos that ensued. It is companies like EDO MBM, as well as the US and UK governments, who bear the responsibility for that."

Interviews Available with the defendants upon request. History of SmashEDO available at

Any further enqueries should be taken to:
Andrew Beckett 07745 817 822
Saul Reid (USSU) 01273 87 3324

Andrew Beckett