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Eco-protest barrister to go to European Court of Human Rights after contempt ruling upheld

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‘It’s no great surprise that the Supreme Court has decided to side with itself’, embargo-breaker Tim Crosland says

Tim Crosland

A former barrister sanctioned for contempt of court after deliberately leaking an embargoed judgment has vowed to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal today.

Tim Crosland, director of environmental group Plan B, was handed a £5,000 fine in May for leaking the result of a ruling on Heathrow airport expansion in protest at the result. He was also ordered to pay £15,000 in costs.

The Supreme Court has now rejected Crosland’s appeal, saying that his conduct “amounted to a criminal contempt of court”.

Most unusually, because the original contempt of court proceedings had been in the Supreme Court, the court was effectively hearing an appeal against itself. A different slate of judges sat to consider the challenge against the decision of their colleagues.

One of the panel, Lady Arden, perhaps understandably felt that the Supreme Court didn’t have the power to hear an appeal against itself.

But the other four justices overruled her. “In the context of the exercise of an original rather than appellate jurisdiction”, the majority wrote, “we do not consider it to be a conceptual impossibility that there can be an appeal from one organ of the Supreme Court to another”.

They rejected the argument that the Supreme Court couldn’t be independent of itself, saying that: “The fair-minded and reasonable observer knows that one panel of Supreme Court judges is bound to, and can be expected to, exercise an independent and impartial view in relation to contempt matters affecting a differently constituted panel”.

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On the substance of the case, the justices were unanimous: the fine and costs order stand. The majority judgment says:

“Mr Crosland’s belief that the judgment contained material errors and his concerns about its impact on global warming and the environment provided no justification for his actions because there was here no defence of public interest and, in any event, it was not necessary to breach the embargo to permit or facilitate public scrutiny of the judgment: it was due to be handed down the following day, and Mr Crosland would then be free to publicise all of his criticisms of its reasoning and his concerns about its consequences. For like reasons, there was no rational connection between any breach of the embargo and the harm Mr Crosland maintained he wished to prevent.”

The court was unmoved by the argument that the contempt finding was a breach of Crosland’s free speech rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The interference with his Article 10 rights, “such as it was, did not prevent Mr Crosland from expressing publicly his disagreement with the Heathrow judgment”.

Crosland vowed to take the case to Strasbourg, telling Legal Cheek: “It’s no great surprise that the Supreme Court has decided to side with itself, in continuing support of the carbon economy, which is driving us all to destruction. The Government knows Heathrow expansion will cause the 1.5˚C Paris temperature limit to be breached, with devastating consequences for us all. But it has concealed that information from the public to pave the way for the £14.5bn project of its corporate sponsors. They are the real criminals, not those of us taking action to defend our communities and the people that we love.”

Crosland continued:

“Retribution against the whistleblower is wrong. The case concerns the right to freedom of expression, which is fundamental to any democracy. I will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Oxford-educated Crosland had been in private practice and worked for the National Crime Agency, but now describes himself as an “ex-Barrister”.

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