Criminal Law Week

Were persons charged with wilfully obstructing vehicles making their way to an arms fair using reasonable force to prevent crime?

Sep 13, 2017

The following article is written for Police Professional by the editors of Criminal Law Week. Criminal Law Week is used by criminal justice professionals – including police officers, the CPS, judges and lawyers – to stay up to date with changes in criminal law. Published 46 times a year, each issue summarises important cases and legislation, keeping you on top of the latest developments regarding offences, police powers, the rules of procedure and evidence, and more. Incisive commentary is also provided by James Richardson Q.C., the editor of Archbold. Our online service gives you access to all Criminal Law Week issues, from 1997 to today. These are pulled together in a fully-searchable database, complemented by annotated key criminal legislation. For more information about Criminal Law Week, or to sign up for a free trial of our online service, please visit www.criminal-law.co.uk or call 01483 414 599. Were persons charged with wilfully obstructing vehicles making their way to an arms fair using reasonable force to prevent crime? No, said the Divisional Court in R (Director of Public Prosecutions) v Stratford Magistrates’ Court (CLW/17/30/2). The biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (‘DSEI’) exhibition took place at London’s Excel Centre from September 14 to 18, 2015. Between September 9 and 12, while the exhibition was being set up, the interested parties obstructed the passage of vehicles making their way to the exhibition. In particular, Angela Ditchfield “locked on” to a vehicle, Isa Alaali and Thomas Franklin lay in the path of a heavy goods vehicle that was carrying a military vehicle, Lisa Butler and Susannah Mengesha chained themselves to a temporary gate leading to the exhibition, and Bram Vranken, Luis Torrejon and Javier Neidhart lay, locked together, on the road and in the path of a heavy goods vehicle driving towards the exhibition. They were arrested and charged with offences of wilfully obstructing the highway, contrary to section 137 of the Highways Act 1980. At trial in the magistrates’ court before a district judge, the interested parties argued that they had been acting to prevent crime. Section 3(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 provides that: “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime…” Although their evidence varied as to the crime they were preventing, in outline they said their intention was to prevent (1) the sale or advertising of weapons or equipment that was illegal under the Export Control Order 2008, and (2) crimes in Yemen, Bahrain, Kurdistan and Turkey, contrary to the International Criminal Court Act 2001. Expert evidence was heard in relation to those allegations. The district judge acquitted the interested parties. In reaching that decision he concluded that there had been repeated failures by law enforcement agencies to take action against illegal arms sales at previous DSEI exhibitions, that each of the interested parties had acted with the intention of preventing unlawful arms sales or the sale of arms for unlawful purposes against civilian populations by obstructing access to the exhibition, that the prosecution had failed to prove the interested parties did not honestly believe that the force used was necessary for the prevention of crime, and that the prosecution had also failed to prove that the force used was not reasonable in the circumstances. The Director of Public Prosecutions asked the district judge to state a case for the opinion of the High Court, but the district judge refused. The Director of Public Prosecutions brought proceedings in the Divisional Court for judicial review seeking, amongst other things, to quash the district judge’s decision and for a direction that the case be remitted for a retrial. The Divisional Court held that, although it is not possible to set out all-embracing principles that could be derived from the cases on section 3(1) of the 1967 Act, certain themes emerged. First, the defence under section 3(1) operates as a justification for the use

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