Appeal Court victory for Animal Aid campaigners

Posted on the 9th September 2007

Two Animal Aid supporters have won a landmark Appeal Court victory over police attempts to criminalise them for running a high street information stall, from where they sought public support for a ban on primate research.

Miranda James and Tracey Rawlings set up their stall in Barnet, North London as part of Animal Aid’s first Primate Action Day in November last year. Police officers falsely accused them of obstructing the public highway. When they came before magistrates in June, the charge was upheld, even though they were granted an absolute discharge.

Miranda and Tracey were determined to clear their names. Animal Aid shared that objective and we also wanted to defend the fundamental right of other campaigners to engage in peaceful protest. We sought the help of human rights organisation Liberty and, on Friday September 7, an appeal was heard at Harrow and Wealdstone Crown Court.

Judge Mole cleared the pair and, in a swipe at the police, said:

‘In granting an absolute discharge, the magistrates no doubt felt that this was a prosecution through which no useful purpose was served, and we share that view.’

He declared that Miranda and Tracey had a ‘lawful excuse’ for setting up their table – namely, they were exercising their right to communicate with the public on a matter that they regarded as important. They had made reasonable efforts to avoid interrupting users of the highway, despite seeking maximum exposure for their message. The prosecution had failed to demonstrate that there was an interruption of highway users and even if they had done so, an interruption had to be ‘unreasonable’ and ‘significant’ before an offence was committed.

Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler, who gave evidence at both the magistrates and Appeal Court hearings, said in a statement:

‘We are very grateful to Liberty for securing this important victory. Miranda and Tracey were not about to be criminalised for talking peacefully to the public about the thousands of primates who are subjected every year to horrific poisoning and brain injury experiments. And Animal Aid wanted a message to go out to police forces around the country that they will be met with a fight if they try unlawfully to suppress legitimate campaigning activities. Miranda and Tracey had been at the first of our four Primate Action Days, which are aimed at achieving an EU-wide ban on all primate research. Two days before the Appeal Court hearing, a giant step forward was taken when a banning petition was closed after attracting the signatures of more than half of all the European Parliament’s MEPs. It is now that Parliament’s official policy to seek an end to all research on apes and monkeys.’

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