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8th July 2024

Interview with Juliette Brown, consultant psychiatrist and climate activist

Juliette Brown was one of six health professionals recently on trial accused of criminal damage to one of the London buildings of JP Morgan. The jury were unable to agree on a verdict and Brown and the others will face a retrial in 2026. Richard Smith spoke with Brown about the trial and what had led to her activism.

Richard Smith: How did you come to be on trial for criminal damage?

Juliette Brown: Each of the six of us has been involved in campaigning on the health harms of the climate crisis, including against new fossil fuels for several years, mostly through a group with around 300 active members called Health for Extinction Rebellion. Some have also taken direct action with Just Stop Oil. The group includes doctors from all specialities alongside nurses and allied health professionals.

We’d been involved for some years in a campaign focused on the US investment bank JP Morgan who are the arch financiers of coal, oil, and gas, and have ploughed over 400 billion $US into fossil fuel projects since the Paris Agreement in 2016 at which all governments of the world agreed to limit emissions (predominantly caused by fossil fuels) to prevent catastrophic loss of life and the plausible collapse of civilisation.

On the eve of the first-ever Level 4 heatwave in July 2022 we headed to the offices of JP Morgan in Canary Wharf at 08:00 am on a Sunday morning and cracked eight panes of glass. We were armed with copies of the Lancet Countdown on Climate Change, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel  Climate Change (IPCC), and JP Morgan’s own internal report on the climate threat Risky Business, leaked the year before to the national press. Those documents tell of catastrophic harm to human health as a result of the funding of fossil fuels, harm that we are seeing in the UK and all around the world, with far worse to come. Our intent was to make the connections between the heatwave, the acute harm to health and the funding of fossil fuels, burst a bubble of denial within the bank, and communicate the urgency of the threat, with the symbolic breaking of glass in an emergency.

The case made its way finally to the crown court two years later. We faced a mammoth task to avoid conviction because the judge removed all defences and instructed the jury to find us guilty. In addition, we were unable to tell the jurors of their right to acquit on conscience. But despite that, the jury could not reach a 10-2 majority verdict. Between three and nine jurors refused to convict us.

Richard Smith: What happened at the trial?

Juliette Brown: It’s important to understand the context in which protest is taking place now. There are thousands of regular people from all walks of life taking actions similar to ours. There has been a huge increase in protests around climate justice and fossil fuels since 2018, which saw the release of the most terrifying IPCC reports.  

Around two-thirds of all climate protests end in acquittal, once magistrates and jurors have heard the truth about the climate crisis. As a result of these acquittals, politicians have put pressure on the justice system to limit the legal defences available to defendants and encouraged the use of civil injunctions to stop protests (like the one that landed the general practitioner Sarah Benn in prison.)  

The government has introduced the Public Order Act, which has lowered the threshold on what is considered disruptive. The High Court has found that to be an illegal overreach of powers. Most recently the government have tried to frame our actions as akin to terrorism. 

The view of climate activists is that protest is like the immune system, a sign of a people in revolt against something manifestly wrong and unacceptable. The United Nations special rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, agrees. He has said that governments should be listening to the concerns, taking the necessary action to protect citizens against this existential threat, and resisting moves to criminalise those raising the alarm through protest. He has also made a public statement of concern about the way in which doctors have been penalised professionally for expressing through peaceful protest because of our alarm at the threat to our patients. He said the clampdown on peaceful protest in the UK is the worst he has seen in Europe and that the narrative needs to change, to re-assert peaceful protest as a sign of a healthy democracy.

Inevitably given the existential threat, the harms we are seeing in our patients and communities, and the duties we have to prevent harm to patients and promote the health of the public, health professionals have increasingly become involved in climate protest. For each of us, our actions are a proportionate response to the threat and the degree of injustice we see, especially when other means have failed. 

Richard Smith: So health professionals are increasingly taking this kind of action?

Juliette Brown: Absolutely. An estimated 130 health professionals in the UK alone have been arrested for climate action in the last five years with many more involved in other ways.

Nine months before our action at JP Morgan, over 60 health professionals protested at JP Morgan leading to two arrests. Both of those arrested were charged and later acquitted. Seven months before we staged a protest at the JP Morgan offices in Glasgow during the COP 26 conference. Seven health professionals stood trial last year for staging a sit-in on Lambeth Bridge and were acquitted. This action at JP Morgan in July 2022 involved the largest group of health professionals arrested and standing trial together for criminal damage to date. 

In the last one or two years some judges have restricted how much defendants are allowed to speak about their motivations. Some people have been imprisoned for even mentioning the words “climate crisis” or “fuel poverty” (in the Insulate Britain trials). Clearly this is a system that is concerned with the response of jurors, ordinary people, to the facts of the climate crisis. Polls show that over 80% of the public wants action on the climate crisis, and that’s even with a media that relentlessly minimises the danger. 

Famously, a retired social worker Trudi Warner became so outraged at the treatment of defendants that in 2023 she held a sign outside court on the right of jurors to acquit according to conscience. This is a right held since 1670 but by convention not communicated to juries for fear they will make use of it. Warner was arrested and hauled in front of an Old Bailey judge, leading to proceedings by the Attorney General for contempt of court Those proceedings were thrown out by a High Court judge in February this year. Justice Saini defended in his judgement the right of jury equity or nullification, as it’s known. The case has led to a movement named Defend Our Juries who aim to promote awareness of the little-known right and includes several medics and allied health professionals in its ranks. Defend Our Juries signatories and signholders have asked the courts to prosecute us too if Trudi’s actions were wrong.

Richard Smith: Was the right of juries to acquit on conscience used in your trial?

Juliette Brown: I think it was used without the jury necessarily being aware of it. Several jury members declined to convict us despite being told they should. They essentially refused the judge’s instruction. We’re not allowed to know the exact numbers who declined to convict us. 

Our defence barristers made oblique reference to jury equity, as they would have faced censure for mentioning it directly.

The jurors asked an interesting question about the law on medical emergencies, which suggests they were really grappling with the exact quandary we face. The law as it stands is unable or unwilling to protect any of us. It puts the protection of property and private interests before the health and welfare of the people. It is completely unable to reflect the realities of this threat we face.

Unusually we were allowed time to explain our motives to the jury. The day before the trial began Judge Pounder made his decision that no legal defences would be available to the defendants, meaning the jury would be instructed that they should find us guilty. That decision was supposed to be delivered two weeks before the trial. 

It is difficult to understate how awful it feels to be subject to that level of state power, to literally render you defenceless. 

In general, there is very little consistency in the way trials are conducted, and the process is opaque. In the second week of our trial, we heard that Amy Pritchard had been imprisoned for cracking glass at the Embankment offices of JP Morgan in 2021 at the Inner London Crown Court. She was one of the people convicted earlier this year and the only one imprisoned. Those five have lodged an appeal against abuse of process as the judge cast doubt on the existence and severity of the climate crisis and threatened the jury with criminal charges if they used their conscience to acquit.

The case is also being appealed to the Court of Appeal on the basis that Judge Reid’s warning to the jury was unlawful and there is a formal complaint before the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office signed by more than 1800 people, including the naturalist and broadcaster, Chris Packham.

Richard Smith: What did you say to the jury?

Juliette Brown: In the 8 days of evidence in our trial, we each told the jury who we are and about our clinical experience (amounting to 130 years in clinical practice), the work we do in our communities, the additional roles we all have in sustainability work, and the many ways we have tried to confront this danger.

We spoke of our reasons for taking this particular action with a focus on the damage to the life and health of our patients, particularly through air pollution, heat, floods, extreme weather events, and the impact on food prices. We gave exhaustive evidence on the harms of fossil fuels (at sites of extraction and the point of use and in the form of greenhouse gases), the betrayal by governments on climate and health, the intransigence of the industry and its backers who have delayed and undermined positive action for decades with the full knowledge of the effects of their products, and, finally, the evidence for the effectiveness of nonviolent direct action.

To me, the trial demonstrated the importance of the health voice, not just in communicating the truth of climate science and the damage we are seeing, but also in conveying our understanding of what health justice means in this context. 

We looked for ways to empower the jury to make their independent decision as they are entitled to do, taking into account all the evidence they had heard. The embargo on speaking about jury equity meant we could not mention that right without being at risk of contempt of court or even a mistrial. Given the odds stacked against us, it is a testament to the bravery and intelligence of the jurors that several stood their ground and refused to convict. At the time of the trial India was baking in 50°C heat and Mexico City was on the brink of cutting off the water supply; yet we were left to make the moral case for our actions with no defence in law. We argued necessity and proportionality, and to some degree the right to life, which are legal defences that have been systematically excluded from trials of campaigners against climate collapse and genocide.

After our closing speeches, the judge issued directions in which he referred to the climate crisis as an opinion or a strongly held belief. To characterise climate science and the health harms of fossil fuels as a belief is a fundamental mischaracterisation. It’s wrong.  

Funding new fossil fuels at this stage in human history, knowing all we know, is effectively condemning the world’s population and all living beings and destroying entire ecosystems on which we all depend for food and water. This is a fact not an opinion. It is a fact that fossil fuel funding is causing immense damage, far greater than a cracked windowpane. 

Richard Smith: What do you mean by health justice in the context of the climate crisis and health?

Juliette Brown: Despite a huge body of work on the social, political, commercial, and environmental determinants of health, most of the teaching we receive in medical school and at the postgraduate level and the information we share with patients emphasises individuals’ behaviours and individual bodies in health and disease. It feeds into a culture around health that tends to lay the responsibility for health and disease at the door of the individual. It’s one reason so many medics are not sensitive to the political nature of health and healthcare.

Health justice is a different analysis. It recognises that much of what causes us to be well or unwell is the result of political decisions and social systems, like the decisions that led to decades of austerity (killing over 300,000 people in a decade and driving a third of UK children into poverty). Health justice accounts for the impacts of all kinds of injustice and discrimination: the effects of racism, gendered violence and sexism, living in poverty, war, and unequal global relationships among countries, with some imposing colonial power on others. These impacts are hugely implicated in the climate crisis. In essence, health justice asks what makes some of us thrive and others not, in political terms.

Health justice sees the impacts of the climate crisis mapping onto existing injustices, so the most vulnerable or disadvantaged are those who suffer most. The richest 1% produce more emissions than two-thirds of the world’s population. 

Many of my patients and colleagues are at food banks because we have allowed so much public money to disappear into private hands – we pay for these decisions. The 50 richest families own more than half of the country. Eighty-one billionaires own more than half the world’s population and are taxed at lower rates than most of us.

The systematic extraction of wealth from the bodies and lands of the most disadvantaged is a huge injustice that traditional climate politics did not fully acknowledge. Health justice holds a mirror up to the damage we are expected to tolerate in our societies.

 I think each of us had reached a health justice analysis in our ways, either through our own backgrounds, with working-class parents, or having lived without much money, growing up in apartheid South Africa, or working overseas. It’s ultimately that sense of injustice that drives us to take these actions because we know that power won’t concede without pressure and we are up against immensely well-resourced and powerful interests in the fossil fuel lobby.

The trust placed in us as health professionals is a factor in explaining all of this. We are walking the walk in our communities. We can’t in all conscience leave it to others to prevent the harm being caused in our communities by the continued expansion of fossil fuels and delays to a transition. 

Richard Smith: How do you justify damage to property?

Juliette Brown: For each of us it comes down to how bad is the situation, who else is doing anything useful to stop it, who is exacerbating the risk, and what are the most effective ways of taking action. 

I asked myself a series of questions before taking this action with all of its risks to my professional standing, and my career, as well as the risk of damaging the trust the public places in medics. How serious, how urgent is the threat, how great is the risk, how great is the injustice?

We talked to the jury about the decisions made in the boardrooms and the corridors of power that decide who lives and dies and the political and corporate decisions that can help or harm us. We talked about rising food prices, food shortages and famine, and the quarter of all UK children living in poverty. We talked about fuel prices, and the failure to insulate our homes and bring down bills. We talked about the threat to healthcare and social care and the supplies of medicines, flooding at Whipps Cross Hospital, and the data centres overheating at Guys Hospital in the week of our action, a safety incident that harmed many patients. 

We spoke directly to the jury about the damage to our local communities from air pollution: 40,000 deaths every year in Britain and links to dementia, depression, seizure, stroke, and diabetes. Two thousand children a day worldwide die from air pollution. We spoke about heat that led to the premature deaths of over 3000 people in the UK in that year, 60,000 to 70,000 in Europe, and thousands more outside of Europe. We talked of the vulnerabilities that put some of us at greater risk: babies, the elderly, people with physical and mental disabilities, the poorest people, and outdoor workers.  We spoke of more than a thousand fires in London that week, including a fire in Havering that wiped out 19 homes. We discussed the 42 deaths of people with learning disabilities and autism that week alone, as reported in the annual review of all deaths of people with learning disabilities. We talked of how heat increases mental health crises, mania, and poor sleep; and how ambulance call-outs increase by 30% for every 1C above average temperature. 

Some of my co-defendants spoke of directly witnessing the effects of crop failure and treating displaced people in incredibly difficult circumstances, in Yemen, South Africa, and Liberia. We spoke about the interconnected global family that we treat as doctors and nurses in the UK, people with brothers and sisters dying of heat in India and a woman who had lost her home in the hurricane in Dominica a few years back. We talked about the toll on the global family both physical and mental of so much loss and damage.

The Lancet, we told the jury, has said  “The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.” 

We spoke of the 400 000 deaths currently attributed to climate change, and the 250 000 additional deaths to come each year from 2030 onwards. We talked of the dire social effects predicted, including collapse of financial systems, breakdown of the rule of law, rise in authoritarianism, and increase in conflict and war, not least over basic resources, food, and water. We spoke of the displacement or death of 2 billion individuals, who will live in uninhabitable regions. We reflected on the globe as a body, with harm in one part affecting the rest.

Climate impacts cost an estimated 1 trillion US dollars in the decade before we took action. The cost of climate damage is six times greater than putting measures in place now to try to limit the damage. Delays in transition from oil coal and gas are leading to higher fuel bills and costs.

I spoke to the jury about hearing of a toddler washed out of his father’s arms in floods in Kenya; a 10-year-old girl who died in a landslide on a school trip in Northumberland after flooding hit; the people in Australia whose bodies were found after the wildfires in their bathtubs; the elderly woman trapped in her home in flooding in Yorkshire; the remains of 18 undocumented people that were found in the burnt out forests in Greece, two of them children; the wars that follow the lack of resources or the greed for new fossil fuels; and the refugees being thrown into the seas or washed up on our shores. 

Twenty million people are forced from their homes every year because of climate impacts. In 2022 this included 1.4 million in Nigeria and three million in Pakistan.

We spoke about the suffering that will never be quantified or reported and the crop failures across multiple regions that will destabilise our interconnected economies and societies leading to more conflict, war, suffering, loss, and damage. We explained that without rapid deep emissions reductions across all sectors, we as a species will cross tipping points, points of no return that make life on Earth impossible, and that scientists are now saying that estimates have been very conservative about when these tipping points will be reached. 

Many of the world’s top scientists think there will be significant social unrest due to climate impacts in the next five years and tipping points are dangerously close. On the current course, civilizational collapse will be in the lifetimes of today’s young adults.

Richard Smith: Did you talk to the jury about the responsibilities of government?

Juliette Brown: We talked about the failure of successive governments to tackle these problems; the rise in emissions despite pledges and promises; the millions in donations to political parties from the industry; the backtracking on any positive action; and the high court finding the government’s net zero plans to be inadequate. We spoke of the tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry amounting to 7 trillion US dollars worldwide, the millions of our taxpayer’s money propping up a product that is harming our bodies, and our families.

Two months before we took the action Rishi Sunak as chancellor gave a tax break to the industry worth £1.9 billion a year, money that could have insulated two million homes and brought down bills and our demand for energy. In the 2024 general election, Labour fielded 31 candidates funded by the fossil fuel lobby. This is what we are up against.

Richard Smith:  Did you talk about the role of the industry and banks?

Juliette Brown: We described how the fossil fuel industry predicted the effects of its products over 50 years ago and then set about undermining the science and cleansing its image. The International Energy Agency says fossil fuel expansion is indefensible. The industry has promoted the notion of a carbon footprint so we feel responsible for our own emissions despite the choices available to any of us being severely limited by the complete failure of the government to invest in the insulation, infrastructure and policies that bring down energy use, and demand: decisions that have resulted in the loss of life.

JP Morgan reaped US$35.89 billion in profits in 2022 from investing in these harmful products, handing over US$400 billion in the preceding five years to fossil fuel extraction that takes humanity into uncharted territory. They commissioned and then buried a report from their own senior economists, which was then leaked to the press: Risky Business warns of policies incompatible with life on earth.

Richard Smith: Did you also talk about what you think it means to be a health professional at this unprecedented moment in human history, with the duties you have and the oath you have taken? 

Juliette Brown: The GMC has said that doctors who take direct action to protect the public from climate breakdown undermine public trust in the profession. In April 2024, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service suspended general practitioner Sarah Benn for five months, after she held up a sign saying “Stop New Oil” in a breach of an injunction obtained by Valero, a US-based oil company. Dr Emma Runswick, speaking on behalf of the British Medical Association, said there was “no possible public or patient interest” for disciplinary proceedings in these circumstances. Doctors’ Association UK said, “Given the evidence on climate change and its health impacts, we strongly believe that peaceful protest should not be viewed as condemnable professional misconduct – but as commendable public health advocacy.” 

It is the view of members of Health for XR that public trust in medicine is enhanced by climate activism. Almost a thousand people have contributed to our Crowd justice page, and there are two petitions by members of the public to reinstate Dr Benn, one with 9500 signatories, and another with 6500. As health professionals, we face a kind of moral injury, obliged and dedicated to preventing harm but punished for caring in the wrong ways.

Some respected prominent health leaders have expressed their expectation that health professionals would be a vital part of successful peaceful campaigns to bring about positive changes in new fossil fuels. Richard Horton has spoken of doctors injecting a moral force into climate debates.

Speaking about our case, Dr Fiona Godlee, former editor-in-chief of the BMJ, said:

“None of these experienced and dedicated doctors and nurses wanted to be up in court on these charges. They wanted to be treating patients and protecting the public as they have sworn to do. But the world is facing an existential climate emergency that threatens our very survival, and our government and corporations like JP Morgan are completely failing us by continuing the madness of investing in fossil fuels. In view of this, I fully understand why these doctors and nurses felt the need to act as they did and I thank them for their leadership and courage.” 

Dr Fiona Godlee, former editor-in-chief of the BMJ

In September 2022 the World Health Organisation joined calls for a binding treaty to end what it referred to as the “self-sabotage” of addiction to fossil fuels, before prioritising in May 2024 the escalating climate change impacts on health in its next programme of work.

Essentially we argued to the jury the damage to health both local and global, current and future, meant a health intervention was both necessary and proportionate, with the intent of saving lives. We identified the heatwave as a medical emergency and argued peaceful direct action to be a proportionate act to shine light into the corridors of power and prevent greater harm. Over a thousand people met premature deaths in the UK that week. Oil and gas money is undermining progress. It is an obstacle to the health of all of us and it is my patients who are paying the price, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Richard Smith: How did you argue to the jury that all other means of responding to the climate crisis had been exhausted?

For a long time, I had a belief, that now seems very naive, that the state would act to protect citizens and not private interests. But over 30 years of inaction and backtracking on promises indicate that this is not the case. There are plenty of analyses of late-stage capitalism (Jason Hickel’s Less is More, for example) that demonstrate how our current socioeconomic systems are propelling us towards civilisational collapse, with the drive toward endless growth on a finite planet. These are systems that are no longer serving us if indeed they ever did serve the majority of us. More and more public wealth is being handed over to private interests. 

When MPs in this country had the opportunity to learn about the climate crisis in a briefing organised with Sir Patrick Vallance by Fiona Godlee and others following the hunger strike outside Parliament of a man named Angus Rose, just a handful of MPs attended. Of course, it is still worth pursuing legal routes to change, with some recent cases proving effective in holding the government to account, but these have taken years to come to fruition and we don’t have that time anymore.

Richard Smith: Still, how does criminal damage help? Are you condoning criminality?

Juliette Brown: In law, it is up to the jury to decide what is criminal, and in our case, they have not been able to do so. 

Of course, it is that tension that is important here. We are not inviting arrest but it can be expected. By design, this type of action creates a visceral response that is intended to drive discussion and raise awareness. We want people to ask themselves what would drive six health professionals to take this action and to reflect on the degree of alarm we are expressing. If your initial response is to recoil, then the action has done its work.

You have to understand something about the role of direct action in cases of manifest injustice or danger. I spoke in the trial about the work of Martin Luther King, a civil rights leader, who wrote extensively about the justification for civil disobedience and non-violent direct action. Political philosophy has also addressed the question of when direct action is justified, most clearly in the work of John Rawls, who said the action should be less harmful than the injustice it seeks to prevent, should not seek to undermine the entire rule of law, and should be in response to a manifest injustice and a significant threat.

So we are balancing the damage to a set of expensive windows against the prospect of mass death, hunger, species loss, and the end of life as we know it. That proportionality judgement is made in every direct action, whether it is disruption of sport, cultural events, weddings, roads, refineries, sabotage to pipelines or damage to property either temporary or permanent. You have to be able to grasp the realities of the crisis before you can really judge the actions, and that includes not just the physical reality of climate science but also the reality of political corruption and the power and influence these deadly industries have. 

When I tapped the window punch at the base of the window and cracked the glass that day, I was thinking of the children of Tower Hamlets whose lungs are smaller than average due to pollution. The possibility however remote of saving a single life for me would justify the loss of a pane of glass.

I was thinking of the history of direct action, whether it was against apartheid, for access to HIV medicines in the case of ActUp, for the rights of working people, and for me the right to work as a doctor and own property. Men without property couldn’t sit on a jury until a hundred years ago. The right to vote, to join a union, and to religious freedoms are comparatively recent and hard-won. There is a whole history of freedoms and protections being won by ordinary people in the face of power that is largely untold in our schools but has profoundly improved the lives of every one of us. Both history and social science tell us that non-violent direct action is the most effective mechanism for bringing about social change in the face of powerful vested interests.

I grew up protecting against apartheid. I watched that seemingly intractable unjust empire fall because of protests, boycotts and disruptive action. I marched against fascism and racism. I watched ActUp activists splash fake blood over the offices of drug companies delaying medications for people with HIV saving thousands of lives. I saw occupations that have led to divestment from fossil fuels and weapons manufacturing. I learnt of the woman at Greenham who tagged weapons convoys and cut fences to get into airbases – leading to the removal of US nuclear weapons from the UK. Action by climate activists led to the public denouncement of Shell by one of their senior consultants in the year before our action. Anecdotally insiders in the banks have begged that we continue our actions, to help move the dial. The leaking of that internal report at JP Morgan also gave us hope that change was being sought by some senior leaders there. We know we are fighting powerful interests but also a culture of denial. This kind of action is vital for increasing the cognitive dissonance felt by workers at these organisations, to generate internal momentum for change.

For some of my co-defendants, their faith is an important corrective to the rule of law: they recognise there are moral obligations that can in some cases transcend the rule of law, which after all is supposed to be an expression of the will and the priorities of the people.

Richard Smith: You talk about peaceful protest and non-violent action but isn’t damage to property violent? 

Juliette Brown: The Judge in our case told us that there is a legal definition of violence that includes force used against an object. For me violence is a term I use for psychological and physical harm caused to living beings–and I include in that the hidden violence of political and corporate decisions. The kind of violence that is enacted on our communities continually by people with power politically. The violence of 2000 children dying a day from air pollution. As health professionals, we also compare that notion of violence to the force used in cardiopulmonary resuscitation to save a life which has a justification in law and a moral justification. The law holds that such actions should have an immediate effect but that’s not how direct action or preventative health interventions work.

The climate movement has remained resolutely non-violent. This is in a context in which the discourse on protest has lurched sharply to the right. We are sometimes compared with the Suffragettes whose statues are outside parliament, but their tactics included plans to bomb theatres, trains, and MP’s homes. They smashed 300 windows in one day in 1912. Linking climate activism to terrorism is not just categorically wrong, it is dangerous, it has an effect on the actions of judges and juries, and it delays necessary progress. Supposedly independent reports like that of Lord Walney are typically produced by individuals or lobby groups that are highly compromised by conflicts of interest.

The prosecution in our case suggested an acquittal would lead to people firebombing detention centres due to their strongly held beliefs, which the jury literally scoffed at as a comparison. It’s a ridiculous comparison. Our very first priority with this action was the safety of the public. Our intention was entirely to protect people from further harm. The cracking of these windowpanes harmed precisely no one. 

Richard Smith: What’s your expectation of organisations like UKHACC in relation to medics taking this kind of action?

Juliette Brown: I think it would be helpful to acknowledge that this kind of action by health professionals is a reflection of the place we’re at in terms of health harms, current and future, in the context of a politics that’s been corrupted by fossil fuel money, industry and banks unable or unwilling to act to prevent the harm, and proved efficacy of direct action.

United Nations special rapporteur Michel Forst sees peaceful action on climate as a sign of a healthy democracy and encourages countries to reframe these actions as vital. He is firmly against professional penalties for protest, which is obviously a message the GMC needs to hear. The council is fully able to account for exceptional circumstances in its processes, which of course we feel the climate and ecological crisis represents, par excellence. 

It goes beyond conscience now. I would say that health professionals who are not doing all they feasibly can are the ones putting the profession into disrepute.

There are currently many health professionals experiencing deep grief at the situation, the same grief and determination that many feel about the genocide in Gaza. Health professionals need support and representation from senior leaders when we voice our alarm and grief, and when we act on our conscience. Alongside the few of us who take action are thousands who have expressed support. And we know that structural discrimination means contact with the criminal justice system is more dangerous for some, which just makes it more important that those who can, do act.

I would expect UKHACC to seek genuinely to represent these caring health professionals, to step into your own grief and sadness and rage at where we are at, for yourselves and the people you represent.

I would also expect that you resist the childlike urge to hope politicians will do the right thing without significant pressure being brought to bear. They have many wealthy lobbyists whispering in their ears and handing them donations. Step into your own power. Find what is right in whatever hallowed space you are allowed into. Also, know that proximity to power and money is corrupting and deeply compromising, so stay true to the values that led you to this work and to the duties you have to represent all of us.

The File on 4 On Trial: Protesters Against the Law that features the trial  and arguments for and against direct action can be heard at