In this section...
6.1.1 At the police station
6.1.2 Searches and possessions
6.1.3 In the cell
6.1.5 Fingerprints, photographs and DNA samples
6.1.8 Support at the police station
6.2 What you could be charged with
6.3 Preparing for your trial
6.3.1 To represent yourself, or not?
6.3.3 Evidence and disclosure
6.3.4 Going to court
6.3.5 Calling witnesses
6.3.6 Plea bargaining
6.4 The trial
6.6 Injunctions and damages claims
The police sometimes give warnings before they arrest you because they don't like filling out the paperwork required if they do arrest you! If you are arrested, you should hear the words: "I am arresting you for ...[they should say an actual offence here]. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." However, it may come out as "You're nicked!". We recommend that you do not make any statement when they formally arrest you, other than to refer them to your prepared written statement and give them a copy - make sure that they make a note that you have given them your prepared statement. Save the other copy for the interview in case they lose the first one.
You are entitled to see a solicitor and also to have someone informed of your arrest. You can ask for your chosen solicitor at any point during your custody. You should have the number of your chosen solicitor written in biro on your arm so you don't lose it during the action. The police must take reasonable steps to get them there as soon as possible or at least get them on the telephone. You should be able to speak to them in private. All legal advice in the police station is free whatever your financial position. You should also be allowed to let someone know that you have been arrested, sometimes they let you make the call yourself, but this is at their discretion.
You will be entitled to consult a copy of the PACE Codes of Practice. You may also be allowed (this is only a PACE recommendation) writing materials. If you don't decide to ask for any of these things immediately you can change your mind later. However, you may have trouble getting their attention later on, as calls from cells are often ignored.
The police will normally only hold you until they obtain enough evidence to charge you. In the case of the genetiX snowball action you will probably be arrested with plenty of "evidence" of your alleged "crime". You could be released within a couple of hours, but be prepared to be held for longer and possibly overnight. They are allowed to hold you without taking you before a magistrate for up to 36 hours, although they would not normally want to keep you this long.
Whilst you are in your cell, and provided they have agreed to let you have pencil and paper, it is a good idea to make notes about the action and your arrest whilst the details are still fresh in your mind, then sign and date the notes. You are allowed to refer to these contemporaneous notes in court.
They may release you without charge and that'll be the end of the case against you.
They may offer you a caution if it is a minor offence. The police do this to avoid the hassle, expense and paperwork of going to court. They also do it in cases where they do not have enough evidence to prosecute, in order to get a result, if this is the case and you refuse a caution then they will usually drop the case. Accepting the caution means that you have said that you are guilty. It is not a criminal conviction (although it does have to be disclosed in the same circumstances as a conviction e.g. job applications) but it will stay on your record for three years, and may be taken into account if you get arrested again. Think carefully about the possibility of being offered a caution before the action and discuss it in your affinity group. It may be pragmatic to accept one, especially if you don't want to risk going to court and getting a conviction, but you will lose the opportunity to test your defence and bring the issues to the public.
If the police want to take the matter further they will charge you (the possible charges are dealt with in section 6.2). Once charged you may then be released on bail to appear in the Magistrates court at a later date. If you have no verifiable address or they think you may commit further offences they may hold you on remand until the next sitting of the Magistrates.
Where the value of the damage is less than £5,000 then the case must be heard in the Magistrate's Court and the maximum sentence is three months in prison or a fine of up to £2,500 and a compensation order of up to £5,000. Where the value of the damage is greater than £5,000 then you can choose whether the case is heard in the Magistrates or Crown Court; in the Crown Court the maximum sentence is ten years in prison or an unlimited fine and a compensation order equivalent to the amount of the damage.
Breach of the peace or behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace: This is not a criminal offence but a civil wrong. It occurs when an act is done or threatened to be done which either actually harms, or is likely to harm, or puts someone in fear of harm, to themselves, to others or to property. It must be characterised by violence or threat of violence. This violence can come either from you or from others reacting to your actions. The only possible penalty is a bind over which is not a criminal conviction: see later for more about bind-overs.
Obstructing a police officer (section 51 of the Police Act 1964): You commit this offence if you resist or wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of their duty e.g. ignoring their instructions, stopping them doing something, deliberately misleading them. This is not an arrestable offence but you may well be arrested for it (giving you a chance to sue the police later on) as it is a convenient means of removing protesters from the site of an action. Maximum sentence 1 month in prison or fine of £1,000.
Public Order Act offences: The Public Order Act 1986 lists a series of progressively more serious offences, the least serious and most regularly used is section 5 (disorderly conduct). To be guilty of this you must have used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displayed a sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. Maximum sentence fine of £1,000.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 sections 68 and 69: To have committed aggravated trespass (section 68) you must have trespassed on land (not highways or footpaths) in the open air with the intention of disrupting or obstructing or intimidating someone from going about their lawful activity. Maximum sentence three months in prison or fine of up to £2,500.
To have committed an offence under section 69 you must have refused to obey the instructions of the police to leave land on which they believe you will commit aggravated trespass. Maximum sentence three months in prison or fine of up to £2,500.
McKenzie friends: Unrepresented defendants are entitled to bring a friend into court to help and advise. These people, known as McKenzie friends, need not be legally qualified. Some Magistrates are still unaware of the right to have a friend in court to help you and you should make sure that you go into court with details of the relevant Court of Appeal cases- McKenzie v McKenzie,1970 and Regina v Leicester City Justices ex parte Barrow, 1991. Your adviser can take notes and discretely interrupt you in order to help you with cross examination of prosecution witnesses. The friend is not allowed to conduct the cross examination or to address the court on your behalf.
For an excellent (and inspiring) guide to defending yourself, read "How to defend yourself in court" by Michael Randle (see appendix 7.3). Also talk with other people who have defended themselves as they may have some very good tips - ask us for contacts.
If you want a solicitor to represent you, you will have to formally instruct them, which means tell them that you want them to run a legal defence on your behalf. You can instruct either the Solicitor who saw you at the police station or any other criminal solicitor. Contact them as soon as you are released from custody.
These defences are untested at present but we may be acquitted.
You will need to gather your own evidence and prepare your defence. If you are being represented, then your solicitor should do all this under your instruction. Make sure they do it thoroughly. Give the solicitor the addresses of any witnesses so they can contact them to interview and prepare them for the trial. Find any videos and photos which may help your case; but be aware that some photos (e.g. of you decontaminating the release site) could also be adopted by the prosecution and may over-ride the possibility of you using your personal statement. The genetiX snowball office will be able to provide you with a skeleton defence to the charge of criminal damage and advise you on the outcome of other snowballers' court cases as the campaign grows.
In the magistrates court a solicitor can present your case, but most cannot in a Crown Court, and so they have to instruct a barrister. Your solicitor may also instruct a barrister for your magistrates court case, especially if they are overloaded with cases. Barristers are usually more eloquent, but won't have an in-depth knowledge of your case. Ask your solicitor for a "Conference" (meeting) with your barrister before the case so you can brief them on what you want them to say.
Courts, and the legal ritual, are designed to intimidate the defendant. If you have never been to court before, it may be worth popping in before your trial to listen in and get a feel for what goes on and help you feel more confident about your own case. There is always a Public Gallery in Magistrates Courts (usually just a row of chairs along a wall) and you are perfectly entitled to sit in. The Magistrates have had no legal training, and will have a Clerk to advise them on the law. There are usually three magistrates. You may, however, especially for cases which contain a lot of technical legal argument, get a Stipendary Magistrate (often known as a "Stipe"). These are ex-barristers or solicitors with extensive legal knowledge. They sit by themselves with the Clerk.
The Magistrates will sit up on a platform, which is designed to make you feel small. You will be in a defendant's box, and your solicitor (if you have one) sits at a bench at the front, with the CPS lawyer. You should ask to sit with your solicitor or if you are representing yourself ask to sit at the front bench so that you do not have to juggle all the papers in your lap. Magistrates and the CPS will speak in "legalese" and talk to you as if you know everything about the legal system. The best advice we can give is not to be intimidated by it and to ask them to explain in plain English if you do not understand.
The Pre-trial review will be your next visit to the courts. This is when you and the CPS go through all the evidence, from each side, discuss any disputes, and list which witnesses to call. The intention of this is to streamline the trial and save time and expense. This is your opportunity to state your case as to why you should be able to call your witnesses e.g. expert witnesses to speak about GM crops and their health or environmental impacts. You may not be allowed to present some evidence or call one/all of your witnesses if the Court dismisses the evidence as "irrelevant".
After this, you or your solicitor could argue that there is "no case to answer", meaning that the prosecution do not have sufficient evidence to convict you, and invite the magistrates to throw the case out. If this is not accepted, you will then have the opportunity to go into the witness box and either present your case, or be examined by your solicitor. You could choose not to do this, if you think you might incriminate yourself by your own words or during cross-examination, or you may choose not to participate in the legal system if you think it is corrupt, but the magistrates may draw inferences if you do not go in the witness box. You will be asked to make an oath on the bible (or other "recognised" holy book), or make a non-religious affirmation to tell the truth. Afterwards the prosecution can cross-examine you. You can then be re-examined by your solicitor or make a further representation yourself. Keep calm and just reiterate the facts. You could ask for a break, although magistrates are less likely to grant this than a Crown Court Judge. Your witnesses are then called, one by one, to be examined by you, then cross-examined by the prosecution, and then re- examined by your side. Witnesses of fact, but not expert witnesses, have to sit outside until called into court to give evidence.
After this, the prosecution sums up their case then you sum up your case to the magistrates in what are known as closing speeches. Then the magistrates will probably adjourn, returning to give the verdict. If you win, you can apply for your costs (travel, witness costs, accommodation etc.).
If you are found guilty, the magistrate will probably sentence you immediately. You are allowed to make a statement in mitigation. This is your opportunity to explain how the consequences might impact on you and any dependants, or your job or financial circumstances, if you were given a heavy sentence. You can also point to your respectful and nonviolent behaviour as evidence of what a good person you are. If you want to appeal for a light sentence then you should have your mitigation prepared in advance. If the magistrate has been moved by your defence but has still found you guilty s/he may give you a light sentence. A way to demonstrate your protest at a verdict is to refuse to enter into any mitigation.
Absolute Discharges: This means that you still have a conviction but no separate penalty.
Bind-overs: You can be bound over even if you have not been found guilty of an offence. These are often offered to people charged with a Breach of the Peace before the hearing in order to save Court time. Magistrates also dole them out as a light punishment for other offences. A Binding-Over Order is an ancient power given to magistrates and has been left over from the Middle Ages. It is basically a promise that you "will be of good behaviour and will keep the Queen's Peace". This really means that you promise not to get arrested for a set time period (usually 6 or 12 months). If you do, and get convicted, you will forfeit a sum of money (usually around £100). A bind-over stays on your record but is not itself a criminal conviction. If you refuse to accept a bind-over, the magistrates have the power to send you to prison for up to 6 months. However, if you are imprisoned, you can agree to accept the bind-over at any time and get out of jail.
Fines: Despite the fact that maximum fines for the offences are high it is unlikely that Snowballers will receive such large fines. You will however need to be prepared for that possibility. Before the magistrates impose a fine you will be asked to fill in a form stating details of your income. If you are on the dole the Magistrates may order the fine to be paid by deduction of a sum of money, about £35[[check]] a week, directly from it. If you are working then they can contact your employer to deduct money and pay it to the Court on your behalf. We advise you to refuse to do this, if you are planning not to pay your fine, but please note it will constitute a contempt of court for which you might be further punished although we don't know of anyone who has had problems with this. See below for more information on non-payment of fines
Conditional Discharges: Magistrates are quite fond of these. If you are given one it means that if you get arrested again within a given time (usually 6 months to 2 years), and are subsequently convicted, you may be re-sentenced for the original offence.
Community Service and Custodial Sentences (Prison): If magistrates or a judge are considering a Community Service Order or a custodial sentence (sending you to prison), your case will be adjourned for a few weeks, for a probation officer to prepare a Pre-Sentence Report for the judge or Magistrates. It is unlikely but you may be remanded in custody during this time.
Community Service means that you will be ordered to do certain tasks for the community for a set time (20 to 240 hours). You have to consent to the order, which is supervised by the Probation Service. If you don't do it, you go back to court, and will probably get more hours added, or be sent to prison. There are usually some "environmental" and outdoors jobs which you could ask to do. You may meet some interesting people whilst doing it.
Going to prison is a big psychological step. There is a separate section on prison below.
Participation in the genetiX snowball campaign carries a risk of being injuncted or of having a claim for damages made against you. These are civil cases, not criminal. Injunctions and damages claims are used by government and corporations to intimidate and discourage people from exercising their right to protest. These types of legal proceedings have become known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Court case preparation and court hearings are very time consuming. This time and energy drain could if you are not careful divert you from campaigning against GM plants. This is of course exactly what the corporations would want.
An injunction might ban you from entering onto certain test field sites, pulling up plants or encouraging others to do so. It is usually part of a larger case which includes a claim for damages. The claim for compensation by the company is likely to include a demand for the material value of the plants you have pulled up, but may also include claims for damage to commercial and business interests. For example a Monsanto damages claim against the five women who pulled up GM plants on the first snowball action claimed "damages for unlawful interference with business and commercial interests" and "damages for conspiracy". The threat of damages and court costs is used to drive a wedge between people with assets and those without.
The first thing you're likely to know about an injunction is when a burly agent of the court knocks on your door with a large bundle of paperwork (give us a ring and we'll put you in touch with someone who can help you make sense of them). These papers will include a summons to attend the court and they may also include an injunction order which has been made against you "ex- parte", this means in your absence. If an "ex-parte" injunction has been made against you the court will have set a hearing date (usually in 1-2 weeks time) to give you a chance to defend yourself against the injunction.
You can represent yourself in court, you could get legal representation from a friendly solicitor or barrister or you could have a MacKenzie friend (a knowledgeable unpaid legal advisor) to assist you. If you challenge the injunction and lose, you are likely to face large court costs. Another option is to negotiate with the company to agree terms for the injunction that you are happy with and stay out of court thus avoiding costs. If you ignore the Court hearing the company will get the injunction terms they want and probably also get court costs against you.
If you breach the terms of an injunction and evidence of this is obtained by the company then you may be served with committal papers which call you back to court. At this hearing the company may ask for your committal to prison. The judge decides on what, if any, sentence you should get. The maximum prison sentence is two years, although this is unlikely. You could also be given a suspended sentence, this means that you have to abide by the terms of the injunction or face that sentence plus an additional sentence for the second breach. You will also need to decide whether to defend the damages claim or not. We suggest that you contact the genetiX snowball office for an update on the case of the five women, and details of helpful solicitors.
You could of course avoid breaking an injunction order by focusing your attention on crops being developed by one of the other biotechnology companies. You might then acquire a string of injunction orders and damages claims.
These types of High Court cases are big campaign publicity opportunities. Big bully multinational corporations trying to silence nonviolent campaigners is a David and Goliath situation and a great press opportunity.
If you are planning to take nonviolent direct action against GM crops and you do have material assets it may be worth seeking legal advice on your options. Disposing of your assets into other people's names well before taking action may be enough, but there is a risk that the assets could still be recovered by the court. Moving assets once proceedings have started is much more risky. The safest course of action is to sell up everything and get cash which is untraceable.