Is it a Crime to Commit a Crime to Prevent a Greater Crime?

Updated: May 14, 2021

Apparently not. Six climate activists have been cleared of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London headquarters in 2019, despite judge directing the jury they had 'no defence in law'.

All those who stood trial explained they had targeted the Shell building because the oil giant was directly contributing to the climate crisis, thereby causing serious injury and death, and argued that it was a “necessary” and “proportionate” response to the harm being caused.

One argued: “I believe if I don’t do whatever I can to protect our Earth, to protect life on this Earth, to stop the death and injury that is and will be happening, I’m committing a crime, a really serious crime, and I’m willing to break a window, to paint a message on a wall, I’m willing to break the glass on that emergency button, even if some say that’s a crime. Because this is a much bigger crime and I’m trying to stop that crime, I’m trying to protect life in the only way I feel I can.”

The judge directed jurors that even if they thought the Extinction Rebellion protesters were “morally justified”, it did not provide them with a lawful excuse to commit criminal damage, adding: “They don’t have any defence in law for the charges they face.”

But the jury of seven women and five men took seven hours and four minutes to acquit them of both charges.


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