notorious anti-protest judge faces suspension calls

  • Post last modified:March 22, 2024
  • Reading time:9 mins read

On Friday 22 March, people gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice to hand deliver a letter to the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr. You can read it here. It was calling for the suspension of Judge Silas Reid for threatening a jury with criminal proceedings in a trial concerning a group of climate activists:

In an unprecedented move, more than 1,800 people first submitted a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, before delivering the letter calling for Judge Reid’s suspension pending the outcome of that investigation. The letter has also been copied to Alex Chalk MP, the Lord Chancellor, whose consent is required before a judge can be suspended.

Basis of the complaint

The complaint focusses on statements made by Judge Reid concerning a trial of five women who broke windows at JP Morgan Bank, the leading financier of fossil fuel projects around the world, at the end of February this year.

Following a pattern of jury acquittals of environmental defenders who had taken similar action, Judge Reid used his public position to cast doubt on the reality of the climate crisis. He said:

The circumstances of the damage do not include any climate crisis which may or may not exist in the world at the moment … Whether climate change is as dangerous as each of the defendants may clearly and honestly believe or is not, is irrelevant and does not form any part of the circumstances of the damage.

Contrary to the fundamental, democratic principle of jury independence (also known as ‘jury equity’ or ‘jury nullification’), he then threatened the jury with criminal charges if they applied their conscience to the facts of the case:

It is only on the evidence you are able to try the case and not on conscience … It is a criminal offence for a juror to do anything from which it can be concluded that a decision will be made on anything other than the evidence.

Judge Reid: a ‘dangerous embarrassment’

Lead signatories to the letters explain this unprecedented intervention below. Professional rules of conduct make it difficult for practising barristers to speak out, but a leading criminal law KC, talking anonymously to Private Eye, said:

I’ve never encountered a judge threatening jurors in the way that Judge Silas Reid did. That suggests a clear determination by him to deter them from returning a verdict independently and without fear of punishment.

Melinda Janki, a Guyana-based lawyer, winner of the Commonwealth Lawyers Rule of Law Award, 2023, and one of the signatories, said:

The rule of law means that no-one is above the law, and that includes judges. I have a message to Judge Reid from Georgetown, Guyana.

We here are going to be underwater with 1.5˚C warming. It’s an abuse of judicial office to suggest that the breakdown of the global climate system could be belief or opinion.

It’s madness to send environmental defenders to prison just for using the words ‘climate change’ in court.

It’s unlawful to threaten a jury with criminal charges for applying their conscience to a case. The rule of law depends on accountability for judges who abuse their powers, which is why I’m joining the call for an investigation into Judge Reid’s conduct.

Charles Secrett, former director of Friends of the Earth, said:

Judge Silas Reid is a shocking example of how ignorant even the most learned man can be with his quasi-blasphemous rejection of the fundamental rights of juries and defendants, the objective rule of compassionate law, and the unavoidable primacy of climate science.

He is an antiquated, confused and dangerous embarrassment to the legal profession. He should be ‘dis-robed’ and removed from office at once.

Professor James E. Hansen, the former NASA scientist and ‘godfather of climate science’, said:

The cruelty of such ‘know nothing’ judges is not so much to the defendant as it is to our children and grandchildren.

A history of Judge Reid’s controversy

This is not the first time Judge Reid has courted controversy with his judicial war against those who know the climate crisis to be real and dare to do something about it.

Last year he imprisoned three people just for mentioning the words ‘climate change’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in his courtroom, defying his ban on the use of those terms.

At about the same time, he threatened a Guardian journalist with contempt of court, on the basis that the journalist’s presence in court, at the same time that people broke his order on what words they could use, suggested he was ‘in on it’.

He also had Trudi Warner, a 68 year-old retired social worker, arrested for upholding a sign outside court setting out the principle of jury equity. He then referred 24 more people to the Attorney General for doing the same thing.

Curiously, Judge Reid takes a more lenient approach to men who violently assault women.

In 2018 he gave a community order to an insurance broker who fractured the jaw of a female friend in three places after punching her in the face. Previously he sentenced a man who had left a woman with permanent scarring, after striking her in the face with a bicycle D-lock, to a suspended sentence and a compensation order of £115.

Yet another UN intervention

In February, the UN published a major international report, State repression of environmental protest and civil disobedience: a major threat to human rights and democracy. Although it does not refer to Judge Reid by name, it alludes to his actions in the following key passages:

In the UK, courts have prohibited environmental protesters from putting forward defenses based on “necessity” or “proportionality”. They have also forbidden protesters from mentioning climate change, thereby preventing them from explaining the reasons for their protest. Courts have held convicted environmental defenders who disregarded this prohibition in “contempt of court” and imprisoned them for up to 8 weeks…

Courts should not impose limitations on environmental protesters’ right to a defense, including to explain their motivation for engaging in protest, and should take into account these motivations in their decisions.

Having been threatened by the Judge with criminal proceedings if they applied their conscience to the case, the jury, contrary to the trend in previous similar cases, found the women guilty. They will be sentenced in June. Judge Reid has indicated the sentence will be custodial but may be suspended.

More to this story than meets the eye?

In principle, Judge Reid’s threats to the jury could form a ground of appeal against conviction. But whether to appeal is a matter for the five women and their lawyers, and may depend on personal and tactical considerations. The possibility of appeal provides no general accountability to the public, for actions which threaten democracy and the rule of law.

Since it is only the Lady Chief Justice that has the power to suspend a judge, it is notable that she herself published a judgement on Monday 18 March, which implied the climate crisis was simply a matter of opinion.

Since Reid expressed a similar position just ahead of this ruling, two explanations present themselves. Either Judge Reid got wind of the Court of Appeal’s ruling before anyone else. Or climate crisis scepticism is endemic across the judiciary, whose lead members dine at the male only Garrick Club alongside Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Featured image and additional images via Plan B

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