Judge Warns Arms Company Over Delaying Tactics in Injunction Hearings
The full trial of a controversial High Court civil injunction, brought by Brighton arms dealers EDO MBM Technology Ltd., against a number of anti-war protesters, has been delayed by the ‘astonishing’ behaviour of EDO’s lawyer, Mr Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, a High Court judge said last week.
In a preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday 16th November, Judge Walker expressed ‘grave concerns’ about the EDO representative’s lack of preparation for what had been ordered to be a speedy trial.
An expedited trial had been ordered in April due to the controversial infringement of protesters civil liberties, and human rights made by the interim injunction that has been brought by EDO under the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act.
Judge Walker warned Mr Cruttenden of law firm Lawson-Cruttenden & Co that if the main trial date was lost altogether, the court would have to seriously consider lifting the interim injunction. It has been in place for nearly six months, and has already led to two peaceful protesters being remanded in Lewes prison for alleged breaches of its conditions.
Protesters have come to believe that there has been deliberate foot dragging by EDO to prevent a full trial taking place, to keep in place an intimidating and draconian injunction that was only meant to be a temporary measure, without evidence of wrongdoing by protesters being properly examined and probably thrown out of court. The defendants all deny they have done anything but protest about the company’s involvement in illegal war and war crimes in Iraq and Palestine.
Controversially, under section 3 of the 1997 Act, breaches of an interim harassment injunction (normally granted in the period before the full trial is heard) make normally legal acts ‘arrestable’ as serious crimes, with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. This remains in force even though the allegations used to bring the interim measure have not yet been tested with a criminal or even a civil standard of proof. The human rights group Liberty have expressed deep concerns about the use of the law by corporations against political protesters, when it was originally intended to protect individuals and their families from stalkers.
Mr Cruttenden, for EDO openly admitted in a preliminary hearing earlier this year that EDO’s evidence of harassment by the protesters was ‘thin’. Despite this the first criminal trial ever to deal with the charge of ‘Breach of Injunction’ against a political protester under the PHA Act is expected to take place in a jury trial at Lewes Crown Court in February 2006 and relates to allegations of conduct by a protester on June 15th this year that would not even be considered tortuous without an interim injunction in place. The interim injunction applies to anyone who protests against the factory whether or not they have been named on the injunction papers.
The main trial, originally fixed to begin on November 21st at the High Court, will now be delayed until after allegations that EDO’s lawyers have illegally solicited and disclosed privileged documents, which were expressly refused to them in a hearing last July by a High Court Judge, have been scrutinised by Judge Walker. These issues will be dealt with in a hearing on Wednesday 23rd, Thursday 24th and Monday 28th November at the Royal courts of Justice.
The Judge will then decide if there is time for the main trial to go ahead between Nov 29th and December 2nd, which are the remaining days left over from the original two week period listed for a full trial, and if this possible, whether the interim injunction should remain in force till the next available date for a full trial which could be several months away. Clearly blaming Mr Cruttenden for the delay, Judge Walker said he might have to lift the injunction.
In another development Judge Walker ordered that EDO managing Director David Jones must give a sworn affidavit explaining the mysterious disappearance of a whole years worth of cctv footage. EDO claim it was all lost. EDO were also ordered to explain where important documents such as correspondence between the company, their security contractors Guardian Guards Ltd, and Sussex Police had not been disclosed. In court Mr Cruttenden explained to the astonished judge that EDO kept a ‘paperless office’. Asked to explain where some of the cctv footage, that had apparently already been copied and sent to him by his clients before the originals went missing, had gone, Mr Cruttenden said that his own office was full of papers and folders from his numerous harassment injunction cases and it might be difficult to ever find it again.
HIGH COURT INJUNCTION TRIAL TIMETABLE:
Royal Courts of Justice, High Court, London
1. Preliminary hearing on issues of illegal disclosure and amended pleadings
Wednesday Nov 23, Thursday Nov 24, and Monday Nov 28. 2005
2. EDO INJUNCTION FULL TRIAL (?)
(tentative dates depending on outcome of prelim hearing)
Tuesday Nov 29th - Friday Nov 2nd 2005
SMASH EDO: MARCH AGAINST THE INJUNCTION
Churchill Square, Brighton
12 Noon. Saturday Dec 10th 2005
Notes For Journalists
PRELIM ISSUES TRIAL
As part of the High Court injunction proceedings a preliminary trial took place between 1st and 4th November 2005. After a complex legal argument from counsel for the Attorney General, who had been invited to intervene on the issue of the legality of the war, Judge Walker refused to grant the defendants a possible defence of ‘preventing or detecting crime,’ which is a defence under the PHA Act. Section 1.3.(a).
The judge ruled against the defendant’s legal argument, but at the same time dismissed with apparent contempt EDO’s incredible claim that their business and all employees were protected from prosecution by the Royal Prerogative.
Judge Walker said that provisions in law for rehabilitation of offenders would not allow harassment to take place to prevent apprehended unspecified crimes over a long period of time. The crime would have to be specific and imminent. He refused to rule on the evidence as to whether or not EDO MBM had been involved in the past in aiding or abetting war crimes committed by UK, US and Israeli forces in Iraq or Palestine, or on the legality of the war in Iraq (to EDO MBM admit they supply equipment ). However he allowed a defence under PHA Act. Section 1.3.(c) that certain conduct might be reasonable depending on the circumstances and the intentions of the individuals involved. Judge Walker ruled that even if EDO MBM’s employees did not know they were assisting war crimes, it could be lawful to harass them to prevent an imminent and specific war crime from being assisted or supplied. EDO MBM’s directors could also be harassed, and even prosecuted under the International Criminal Court Act if it was shown they had aided and abetted specific war crimes. Despite volumes of evidence showing the high probability that EDOs products had been used in conflict areas, arms trade secrecy had prevented them from showing that a particular EDO product had been used intentionally to commit a particular war crime at a particular time. The ultimate crime of a war of aggression-the War on Iraq- was beyond High Court scrutiny because it is yet to be recognised as a crime under UK domestic law. The Jones case that goes to the House of Lords in February will decide this point one way or the other.
It should be noted that this was a technical legal argument and the defendants are denying that they have taken part in any course of conduct amounting to harassment whatsoever.