The appeal of 15 activists convicted of blocking a deportation flight in 2017 is being heard in the Court of Appeal this week. The so called ‘Stansted 15’ made national headlines in 2017 after halting the deportation of 60 people to Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone by chaining themselves to the plane chartered to remove them.
So far 11 people who were on the flight have brought successful appeals against the Home Office’s decision to deport. The Crown Prosecution Service went on to charge the protesters under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, legislation usually reserved for punishing terrorists targeting civil air travel and requiring the permission of the Attorney General. The 15 were found guilty of ‘endangering safety at a public airport’ following a 10-week trial at Chelmsford county court.
It is being argued on behalf of the protesters that the legislation is wholly unsuited to punish a non-violent demonstration. Raj Chada of Hodge Jones & Allen, representing the 15, has said: ‘There will be a chilling effect on the noble tradition in the UK of dissent and direct action if terror related offences are used against peaceful protesters.’ A number of human rights charities have since spoken out against the terror conviction, with civil liberties organisation Liberty intervening in the appeal. Minnie Rahman, a spokesperson for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, tweeted that the Home Office ‘cannot throw the book at people like #Stansted15 for stopping one of the most cruel and abhorrent aspects of our immigration system. Especially not under terrorism law’.
Deportations: A Thread
Next week the Home Office has chartered a flight to Jamaica, intending to deport people who have been in the UK their whole lives.
Today the #Stansted15 appeal their conviction for peacefully stopping one of these flights from occurring.
— Minnie Rahman (@minnierahman) November 24, 2020
The 15 have furthermore pleaded a defence of ‘necessity’ to the terrorism charge, with Claire Montgomery QC maintaining on behalf of the protesters that their actions were necessary in order to prevent the government from acting illegally by deporting those who went on to claim asylum in the UK.
‘Necessity’ has been pleaded by protester defendants multiple times in the past: most notably by five peace protesters in 2004, who argued that their attempt to break in to an RAF base was necessary to prevent war crimes in Iraq. Whilst in that case the plea failed on the ground that a ‘crime of aggression’ did not constitute a crime under English law, the appeal judge left it open for the defendants to argue that their actions had been necessary in the belief that the bombers stationed at the base would go on to kill or cause serious injury to people in Iraq.
Setting out the grounds of appeal yesterday, Montgomery highlighted the testimony of Ben Smoke, a journalist and member of the 15, that he had clear knowledge of risks of serious injury and death faced by specific people on the flight. A statement issued on behalf of the Stansted 15 reads: ‘We felt compelled to act as we had credible and reliable information about specific individuals who were victims of the UK’s brutal deportation system. We hope that the Court of Appeal will overturn our convictions.’