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From left to right, Joanna Frew, Chris Cole, Raj Chada, Nora Ziegler and Henrietta Cullinan

Peace News: ‘right to protest’ celebration

On 18 June at 2pm, Peace News will be celebrating via Zoom the first anniversary of the groundbreaking Ziegler ‘right to protest’ decision by the Supreme Court with the four anti-arms campaigners at the heart of the case – Nora Ziegler, Jo Frew, Henrietta Cullinan and Chris Cole – and their solicitor, Raj Chada. HOT’s Zelly Restorick feels the right to protest is vital and invites you to join the celebration.

Register for this Peace News Zoom event here.

On 25 June 2021, the supreme court of the United Kingdom delivered a landmark judgement on the right to protest, ruling that deliberately obstructive protest can be legal. Subsequently, dozens of direct action cases have already benefited from the Ziegler judgement.

The supreme court reached their historic decision when considering the case of four Christian peace activists who had blocked the road leading to the DSEI arms fair in London in September 2017.

Henrietta Cullinan is a peace activist and writer born in London. Henrietta was one of the defendants in the Ziegler case, which has been cited in many direct action cases since then. The supreme court ruled that exercising your right to protest could be a ‘lawful excuse’ for obstructing the highway, even if the protest is seen as disruptive.

Anti-arms protest. Henrietta Cullinan is locked on – to the left of the photo

Henrietta wrote recently for Peace News: “In September 2017, four of us were arrested during a lock-on outside the DSEI arms fair at the ExCeL Centre in East London. We were deliberately attempting to disrupt the setting up of the arms fair.

“In the magistrate’s court, we never denied we were blocking the highway, but the judge respected our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and we were acquitted.

“Then, after nearly four years of legal wrangling, as the lawyers put it, we were acquitted again in the supreme court last summer.

“I have thought a great deal since then about direct action and protest.

“The court process is an opportunity for reflection and self-education, but we shouldn’t have to be standing in a court to fulfil our rights to freedom of expression.

“A road is not always a highway. Our little DSEI protest was about transforming a road and turning into a space of prayer and peace.

“Key to this kind of direct action is that it should be site-specific and transformative. The context is enormously important.

“… there have been countless campaigns at all levels from local opposition to parliamentary committees to legal actions against the arms trade.

“The DSEI arms fair takes place in a part of London where migrant communities over centuries have made their home to escape war and oppression. Meanwhile, the arms trade continues to fuel those very wars.”

Register for this Peace News Zoom event here.

Outside Stratford Magistrates’ Court: from left to right: Chris Cole, Joanna Frew, Nora Ziegler and Henrietta Cullinan

Chris Cole, director of Drone Wars UK and former vice-chair of the international Catholic organisation, Pax Christi – and also one of the defendants in the Ziegler case, said in the same Peace News article: “Despite claims that the country is fed up with ‘disruptive protests’ and ‘activist lawyers’ who uphold human rights or act for climate justice, juries made up of ordinary citizens are, on the contrary, quite happy to accept that individuals, in the face of injustice, have to sometimes ‘take the law into their own hands’.

“It’s not just juries but the senior judges, too, who accept that disruptive protest can well be lawful and legitimate – see the quashing of the Stansted 15 convictions and the supreme court’s verdict in our DSEI arms fair protest, known as the Ziegler judgement.

“Despite much frothing at the mouth from right-wing commentators and politicians, ordinary people can perfectly well distinguish between damage caused to a pub window during a bar room fight and damage committed as part of a political protest.

“Engaging in such protest and arguing your case before the courts is a time-honoured and legitimate way to advance a campaign. Long may it continue to be so.”

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Posted 12:33 Monday, Jun 13, 2022 In: Campaigns

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