Since being formed in May 2018, the eco-warriors of Extinction Rebellion have done their best to endear themselves to commuters across the country. Known for their outlandish stunts, apocalyptic rhetoric and garish attire, members of the movement have deployed new forms of non-violent civi disobedience – much to the irritation of those whose roads and bridges they blockade.
One such member is Jason Scott-Warren, a lecturer in English literature at the University of Cambridge. The academic tweeted on Monday that he was due to appear in court for a one man protest in May in which he repeatedly obstructed the highway wearing a sandwich board. The summons prompted him to declare 'I was hoping that the court might burn down before this date arrived. Instead I'll have to somehow carry the fires with me.'
He need not have worried however; the case was dropped yesterday, much to the academic's delight. He wrote online: 'Case dropped, anti-@ExtinctionR prosecutions crumbling, HRA [Human Rights Act] rights to protest alive and well.' It's not the first time Scott-Warren has been involved in such protests. Back in 2019 he hit the headlines of his local paper after performing a one-man protest outside a BP petrol station, standing outside the garage for around an hour every so often for no less than three months.
He told Cambridgeshire Live: 'I think there should be a government health warning on every petrol pump. I'm here being a little government health warning of my own.' He was also fined £800 for his involvement in the April 2019 mass London protests – a verdict which he denounced as 'prosecution by the ecocidal state.'
— Jason Scott-Warren (@jes1003) August 9, 2021
On Wednesday I have to go to court to answer for my crimes: obstructing the highway in the @ExtinctionR 'Rebellion of One' protest in May.I was hoping that the court might burn down before this date arrived. Instead I'll have to somehow carry the fires with me. pic.twitter.com/75K02TtkFO
Scott-Warren, who describes himself on Twitter as an 'Academic scared shitless by climate collapse and government inaction' spoke to Steerpike about his most recent brush with the law. He said: 'This case was supposedly dropped for ‘lack of evidence’, but the truth is that the CPS has been knocked off course by a series of judgments reasserting the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protest, even where that protest causes some level of disruption.'
He argued that his protest was justified given the circumstances, adding: 'At this terrifying moment, as the planet's life-support systems begin to unravel, we have a moral responsibility to engage in disruptive protest, because without disruption—to our ways of thinking, our economic order and our lives—we are headed for annihilation’.
— Jason Scott-Warren (@jes1003) August 11, 2021
Case dropped, anti-@ExtinctionR prosecutions crumbling, HRA rights to protest alive and well.Thanks to everyone who sent messages of support!#climateemergency pic.twitter.com/76KpvWIZdj
The academic is not the first to credit the Human Rights Act as a key factor in the case being dropped. A succession of XR cases have collapsed in recent weeks owing to this legislation which was passed by the Blair government in 1998 to incorporate the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.
To rectify this, some Tories are pinning their hopes on Priti Patel and her proposed new protest laws under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The embattled minister wants to crack down on XR's attention-grabbing stunts but the HRA means that any interference with the right to protest must be justified. It remains unclear how the two can be reconciled, given the lack of enthusiasm among MPs for another Europe related constitutional battle.
In the meantime, Steerpike wonders how many more protesters will get to celebrate their charges being quashed.