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27th June 2024

Jury refuses to convict six climate-protesting medics who damaged J P Morgan bank

Richard Smith reports on the trial of six health professionals for breaking glass in a medical emergency

On 14 June after a trial lasting two weeks a jury was unable to agree on whether to convict six health professionals accused of causing criminal damage to London buildings of J P Morgan in July 2022. The health professionals now face a retrial in February 2026.

The health professionals were Juliette Brown, a consultant psychiatrist, Alice Clack, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Maggie Fay, a dementia specialist nurse, Patrick Hart, a general practitioner, David McKelvey, a general practitioner, and Ali Rowe, a child and adolescent mental health specialist and former mental health nurse.

Recognising the serious threat to health from climate change caused largely by fossil fuels, the health professionals followed experts who have singled out J P Morgan as consistently the leading investor in fossil fuels. It has invested over $400 billion since the Paris Agreement in 2016 when the world’s governments committed to keeping temperature increase to well below 2C above preindustrial levels and preferably below 1.5C. It is now likely that 1.5C will be breached within a decade and that the world is headed to an increase of 3C, making much of the world uninhabitable and precipitating famine and mass migration.

Immediately before the trial began the judge ruled that the health professionals had no defences in law. They did not deny breaking the windows but pleaded not guilty to criminal damage. The judge did allow the health professionals to speak in their defence in a fairly unhindered way but they were not allowed to claim that they had a legal defence. Nor were they able to tell the jury directly that juries have a right to acquit according to their conscience, which is known as “jury equity” or “jury nullification.”

The right to trial by a jury was written into Magna Carta in 1215, and in essence the right is designed to resist tyranny. Juries might deliver a verdict of not guilty because they think that the law is unjust, the law has been misapplied, the punishment is too harsh, or frustration with the whole criminal justice system. There have been many cases, dating back to the 16th century, of where juries have acquitted defendants without a defence in law.

Early this year efforts were made by the Attorney General to try a retired social worker, Trudi Warner, for contempt of court for sitting outside a court holding a placard that said: “Jurors, you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience.” Her action was in response to seeing so many climate cases in which defendants were being barred from speaking at all about their reasons for taking direct action.The judge in the High Court in April 2024 refused permission for the case to progress against Warner, but the government is appealing the decision.

The health professionals were allowed to address the court about the damage to health from the climate crisis but were not allowed to say that they had a defence in law. In a series of cases juries have appeared reluctant to convict health professionals and others if they are given a chance to explain their actions.

Juliette Brown summarised what the health professionals said: “We spoke of our reasons for taking this particular action with a focus on the damage to life and health of our patients, the exhaustive evidence of the harms of fossil fuels, both at site of extraction, at the point of use and in 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.”

When he summed up, Judge Pounder told the jury that they had to answer only two questions to convict the health professionals: did they break the windows and did they intend to break the windows? The judge also told the jury that they should disregard “political and philosophical beliefs” that led the health professionals to take the action they did.

Patrick Hart in his closing address rejected the argument that the health professionals’ fears about climate breakdown stemmed from  a “political or philosophical belief.” The laws of nature will, he said, dictate what will happen. He added: “I believe in my heart that my actions on that sweltering July day were right and just. This is all I need. The rest is up to you. And so it is in this same spirit of humanity that I put my trust in you, the jury. To be freely judged by my peers, by my fellow human beings, is a great privilege. Thank you.”

The jury retired for two days and was eventually told by the judge that a majority verdict (10:2) would be acceptable. On the second day the jury sent a note to the judge to ask whether a medical emergency could be a defence for the health professionals breaking the windows. The judge told them a medical emergency was a defence only if the harm prevented was immediate—for example, breaking a window to save a child. The defendants had argued that medical interventions reflect a broader notion of cause and effect within healthcare, and that direct action can constitute an intervention to save lives, even if the effects are not immediate.

After two days the judge asked the jury if they had reached a majority verdict. They answered no and were discharged. The Crown Prosecution Service immediately requested a retrial which is set for 2 February 2026.

Alice Clack said after the trial: “The outcome doesn’t bring back the countless lives already lost to JP Morgan’s fossil fuel addiction in this country and around the world. But it gives an indication of the public support for medical practitioners willing to put their bodies on the line. The climate crisis is a health crisis.”

The annual representative meeting of the BMA earlier this week passed a motion “safeguarding the rights of healthcare workers and medical students engaged in activism.” Doctors should be able to engage in activism without facing a risk to their licences to practise.

The meeting was told that “No doctor or medical student should ever be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.” Bethan Stanley, a medical student, told the meeting: “Standing up for what we believe in does not make us bad doctors. If you ask me, it actually makes us better.”

Other doctors spoke against activism, and Thomas Kinloch, a retired doctor said that: “Cooperation, communication and consensus will always achieve more than confrontation.” The medics involved in this trial for criminal damage would argue that confrontation is the inevitable result of failure by political leaders to take action years ago that would have prevented the harms we are seeing now from air pollution, heat, floods, famine and forced migration worldwide.

The trial of the health professionals will feature in a File on Four programme on Tuesday 2 July.

Comments from almost 1000 supporters are on the crowdjustice fundraising page related to this trial: