Open letter to the Solicitor General, Mr Michael Tomlinson and the Attorney General, Mrs Victoria Prentis

Posted by: Ali Rowe - Posted on:

Trudi Warner stands outside a crown court holding a sign which reads 'Jurors ~ You have an absolute right...'

October 2023

Dear Mrs Prentis and Mr Tomlinson,

We, the undersigned, are health professionals from around the UK. We are writing to express our deepest concerns regarding the prosecution of Trudi Warner for alleged contempt of court. We are very concerned for a number of reasons.

Trudi Warner was arrested and subsequently charged with contempt of court for silently standing outside a court building holding a sign saying ‘Jurors, you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience’. This is a centuries old right, enshrined in law in 1670 and commemorated for the public to see in a plaque at the Old Bailey. Ironically it was a judge at the Old Bailey who referred her to the Attorney General for contempt of court.

Centuries old fundamental democratic rights are at stake

Trudi Warner was moved to stand outside the court with her sign after witnessing several Insulate Britain trials, during which defendants were imprisoned for trying to state their motivations against the judge’s orders, and jurors were effectively directed by the judge to find the defendants guilty. We do not see how preventing defendants from discussing the context and motivations of their actions, can be in the interests of ensuring that justice is upheld, and fail to see why jurors should not be informed of the legal right they have, to use their conscience in coming to a verdict.  

The Wider Context

The Insulate Britain trials are set in a wider context of climate breakdown and inequality crises, both of which are extremely important public health issues that cause widespread avoidable morbidity and mortality and have now become existential threats. Therefore, this is of the greatest concern to health professionals for the following reasons.

First, the increasingly visible scale of the climate and ecological emergency is threatening all our life support systems, our health and wellbeing, and the social stability of our societies, as well as the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the world. Health organisations across the UK agree that it is the biggest threat to our physical and mental health of our times.

The Faculty of Public Health states that the climate and ecological crises ‘risk catastrophic harm to health, both in the UK and across the world, that will be impossible to reverse’.

The World Health Organisation states that “climate change is the single biggest threat facing humanity”. Already, environmental factors are causing the deaths of 13 million people globally every year. Meeting the Paris climate goals could save more than 1 million lives a year from air pollution alone. The effects of climate change also disproportionately affect vulnerable, disadvantaged and low income countries and communities, who have contributed least to it, whilst also exacerbating many social, environmental and economic risk factors for health and mental health outcomes and psychosocial wellbeing.

Witnessing and anticipating climate breakdown is severely affecting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of people around the world, especially young people. The briefing paper by the Grantham Institute on Climate change and mental health states that the impacts ‘will get worse without meaningful interventions, driving and exacerbating health and social inequalities which themselves worsen mental health’, and ‘are likely to be vastly underestimated’. It also makes clear that ‘Climate change exacerbates mental distress, particularly among young people, even for individuals who are not directly affected’.

The suicide last year of 22-year-old Xavier Gonzales Trimmer, who strove desperately to play his part in persuading government to effectively mitigate against climate catastrophe, is but one tragic example of the mental health toll many young people are suffering today. Xavier was faced with a double burden: not only was he acutely aware of the threat climate change posed to his own life and the lives of others, including those dying now around the world; but also his best efforts to influence change were unsuccessful and resulted in intolerable personal hardship.

Second, the inadequate and insufficient response by the government to the urgency of the situation. The UK government’s own climate advisers have warned earlier this year that the government is failing to achieve its own climate action targets and jeopardising the future of our children by inaction as well as through ‘continuing support for further unnecessary investment in fossil fuels’ as Lord Deben wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister in June 2023. 

The Government’s inaction and negligence in failing to consider the health and wellbeing of future generations, is adding to the mental distress caused by the crises and creating a sense of betrayal amongst many, especially the young.

Third, the refusal of the UK government to listen to scientists, health professionals, and others, who are rightly extremely concerned about the future of our young people, creates a momentum towards disruptive non-violent direct action, which has been shown historically to be an effective route to social change. This momentum driving action, combined with ever more restrictive policing policies, has resulted in a situation where police and court resources needed elsewhere are taken up in actions against peaceful citizens. Juries have acquitted protesters, showing that ordinary people understand and agree with protesters when they know the full facts and their reasons for protesting. Rather than accepting that the law is not adequate for the emergency at hand, and that conscience has required that some jurors find in favour of defendants, some members of the judiciary and government are moving to deny or emasculate trial by jury. This is abhorrent to us.

We urge the UK government and the judiciary to consider why usually law-abiding citizens are taking these actions? We ask you to consider what is the rational and appropriate response to safeguard health? Is it appropriate to use the law to silence and clamp down on citizens who act entirely out of concern for the welfare of people now and in the future? 

Why is this important for us as health professionals?

All health professionals in the UK are bound to a professional code of ethics which centres around acting in the best interest of the individual (beneficence), not doing harm, or allowing harm to be caused (non-maleficence), considering equality and ethical aspects of decisions (justice), and the respect for an individual’s right to self-determination (autonomy).

The impacts of the climate and ecological crisis pose serious risks to all our mental and physical health now and in the future, whilst disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalised communities and younger people. At the same time, government inaction and silencing of protesters has the potential to have detrimental impacts on morale, a sense of justice and autonomy. Thus, all the ethical domains outlined above are being increasingly impacted negatively by the climate and ecological crisis.

Ethical guidance for all health professions further stipulates a duty to raise concerns where it is believed that “patient safety or care is being compromised” as well as a duty of candour to speak up and be open and honest where something has gone wrong, or care has the potential to cause harm.

We believe that it is our duty to raise concerns and speak up not only about the dangers to health from the escalating climate and ecological crises, but also from threats to our democratic rights especially where they are impacting on health. This includes speaking up when those who defend these rights are being threatened with court proceedings for their acts of candour.

Trudi Warner is a retired social worker and formerly worked with young people in mental health care. She has now devoted her life to fight for a liveable planet for all in the face of climate breakdown. She engaged in her action in the spirit of protecting young people in the UK and around the world from the impending catastrophe that scientists and national and international organisations like the IEA and the IPCC continue to warn against. 

Mr Tomlinson, you as the Solicitor General, have stated that it is in the public interest to prosecute Trudi Warner because of the risk of her action to interfere with the administration of justice. 

We believe that it would be in the public interest for our government and our elected representatives to act with the urgency required to avert the harm the climate and ecological crises pose to the health and wellbeing of all citizens in this country and the health, lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. And it would be in the public interest to be open and honest about the threats that we are facing and the necessary changes the country needs to take urgently to minimise harm. 

That would be in the public interest.

Lord Deben, in his letter to the PM in July 2023 stated:

‘Our children will not forgive us if we leave them a world of withering heat and devastating storms where sea level rises and extreme temperatures force millions to move because their countries are no longer habitable. None of us can avoid our responsibility. Delay is not an option.’

Yours sincerely,