Did the Colston trial go wrong?

Protest and the criminal law

April 13, 2022

In June 2020, a statue depicting Edward Colston was damaged by being pulled from its plinth, rolled and dragged across cobbles, and dropped into Bristol harbour.  Four people were charged with criminal damage.  All four were acquitted in January this year.  This paper, which draws extensively on transcripts of counsel’s speeches and the judge’s summing up in the trial itself, contends that things may have gone wrong at the trial.  The paper makes clear that the Attorney General would be justified in referring point of law that arose in the case to the Court of Appeal.  It can be expected that the points raised in this case will be raised in others involving allegations of criminal conduct in the course of political activism and protest. If the boundary between legitimate protest and criminal conduct is unclear (as it seems to be), this creates acute problems for the police, protestors, members of the general public who want to go about their daily lives, and for the conduct of criminal trials, which are not appropriate arenas for the resolution of essentially political issues.

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