The group of activists known as the Stansted 15 will appear today before the Lord Chief Justice, at the Court of Appeal. Head of Criminal Defence at leading social-justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, Raj Chada, alongside renowned protest lawyer Mike Schwarz, will be representing all 15 members of the group in the Appeal, following their conviction in December 2018 for “endangering safety at a public airport”.
On 27 March 2017, in a remote part of Stansted airport, the Stansted 15 surrounded a plane which was due to deport 60 individuals to Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. By ‘locking on’ to each other, the group prevented the use of the plane, which had been chartered by the Home Office. Since then, 11 of the 60 passengers remain in the UK. Amongst the passengers to be deported was a victim of human trafficking. UN human rights experts have expressed their concern about the case and urged the UK not to use security and terrorism-related legislation to prosecute peaceful protesters.
The activists initially received a charge of “aggravated trespass”, a minor pubic order offence, which normally results in non-imprisonable sentences, and is a common charge in these types of cases. However, 3 months following the charge, the CPS changed it to a new offence: “endangering safety at a public airport”, a far more serious, terror related offence, which can carry, at maximum, a sentence of life imprisonment.
The Stansted 15’s legal team will be arguing that the legislation used to convict the group is not only rarely used but also not intended for this type of case: it was created in response to terrorism in the early 1990s– a very different situation to the events of 27 March 2017. Moreover, the application of this legislation requires the consent of the Attorney General, which was granted in July 2017. To date the CPS has refused to disclose what information was put before the Attorney General or what the rationale was for the consent. The defence believe that the Attorney General should not have granted consent in this case.
In a joint statement, members of the Stansted 15 group have said: “Three years ago we stopped a deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana. Far from endangering anyone, our peaceful action prevented people from being deported to places they were not safe. These people are friends, family members, neighbours, mums and dads of young children. 11 people who would have been deported that night are still in the UK now, building lives the government attempted to destroy.
We felt compelled to act as we had credible and reliable information about specific individuals who were yet more victims of the UK’s brutal deportation system. We should not have been charged with a terror-related offence, let alone found guilty and we hope that the Court of Appeal will overturn our convictions.”
Raj Chada, has said: “The Stansted 15’s actions are not covered by the terms of this legislation, nor should the Attorney general ever have been given consent. 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 protestors. Most importantly, there people who were due to be deported that night, but who the courts now accept have a right to stay. That would not have happened but for the actions of the Stansted 15”.
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