Sophia Dower acts for Just Stop Oil activist acquitted in wilful obstruction trial
Sophia Dower was instructed to represent Anne Richards, a climate change activist who was protesting as part of the Just Stop Oil’s campaign of Occupy Westminster during October last year. Ms Richards, an Emeritus Professor in Psychology, was charged alongside four other protestors with wilful obstruction of a highway after blocking Horseferry Road at the junction with Tufton Street situated the heart of Westminster. The Defendants had glued their hands to the road and locked arms in metal tubes to obstruct their removal by police. Another protestor spray painted the front of 55 Tufton Street with orange paint. He was charged with, and convicted of, criminal damage. Their aim was to draw attention to the occupiers of 55 Tufton Street who they believed were government think tanks and climate change deniers who had substantial influence on government policy.
Sophia was the only defence legal representative in the case because all other defendants self-represented, therefore she took the lead on behalf of all defendants. The trial issue was whether a conviction would be a proportionate interference with the defendants’ article 10 and 11 rights (freedom of expression and freedom of assembly) under the European Convention of Human Rights. After extensive cross-examination of several police officers and careful analysis of the unused material, it was established that the duration of the action was not more than an hour and a half, there were numerous alternative routes available to traffic and road diversions were put in place within 10 minutes of the action commencing. Moreover, Sophia highlighted the absence of any other offences having been committed at the same time, the lack of any hostility from the public and the protestor’s “blue light policy” which would have permitted emergency vehicles to pass had they required. Applying the legal principles derived from the leading case of Zeigler  EWHC 71 (Admin) and  UKSC 23 to the facts of this specific case, Sophia was successful in her submission that a conviction would be a disproportionate interference with the protestors’ article 10 and 11 rights. DJ Ikram acquitted all defendants of the offence of wilful obstruction of a highway.