on 05 April, 2016

The Legitimate right of Peaceful Protest

In the UK, we have a long history of reform brought about by peaceful protest - from the ‘Chartists’ and suffrages, the abolition of slavery, to the reform of our parliamentary system. We are deeply concerned about the comments of the National Farmers Union last week that claimed information relating to the badger cull being published was variously, “illegal activity,

attempting to intimidate farmers” and the “reprehensible” action of “leaking information which could lead to farming families being targeted”.  They went on to “question the motives of anyone considering publishing this information as doing so can only have one possible purpose – to encourage the harassment of farmers and their families like we've seen previously.”

In fact, the NFU statement could be seen as directly supporting the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, who made reference to the faced by farmers, suggesting that this was a regular occurrence whilst addressing the NFU Conference last month.

There appears to be a concerted effort to undermine anti-badger cull campaigners perhaps in an attempt to deflect attention from the high cost of the failing badger cull policy whilst the country endures ‘austerity’ despite the claims that we are "all in this together". What the NFU and Ms. Truss are overlooking is our legitimate right to peaceful protest.

A recent Tribunal Judgment confirms that claims of intimidation are exaggerated and misleading. The General public may not be aware, but claims of harassment and intimidation were tested in court last autumn at an Information Commission Tribunal involving Natural England. Natural England withheld information on the basis of preventing harassment of those participating in the cull. Natural England lost the case and was ordered to disclose the information.

The Judgment of the Tribunal did not agree with the unsubstantiated assertions of Liz Truss and the NFU, noting that: “Most of the incidents described seem to us to be perfectly lawful protester activity, such as marching or demonstrating . . . or identifying participants who can be lobbied and using largely lawful methods to try to persuade them to cease involvement in the culls through social media, phone calls, writing polite letters to retailers of farm produce, etc.”

The Judge and panel also found that “the vast majority of protester activity was peaceful and lawful” and noted that “increased protesting in the cull areas (or better directed protesting) is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society.”

This was the first time that Defra/Natural England/NFU claims of widespread intimidation and harassment of farmers during the badger cull had been tested robustly by the legal process. During the pre-appeal hearing process, much was made by Defra and Natural England about the amount of ‘evidence they could produce in support of its assertion that intimidation and harassment were widespread. This was a key plank of defence of the decision not to release information. In spite of having the entire weight of the Government and the NFU behind them, during the appeal, Natural crumbled to a few witnesses unable to substantiate those claims. This case, heard in a London courtroom, was the result of a request by three members of the public for information on the badger culls from Natural England. Natural England refused to disclose certain information claiming that its release “could endanger people no good reason”, but eventually, they were required to defend their decision in front of a tribunal. Natural England lost – and they lost comprehensively.

Anne Brummer, CEO of the Save Me Trust, said “protest is a legal right and one we must protect. The badger cull is ineffective, inhumane, expensive and doesn’t work. bTB remains latent in herds due to ineffective skin tests. The NFU do their members, farmers, and the wider public no service to continue with this pointless, costly  and ill-fated cull”.

A summary of the judgment can be found here:

The full judgment can be found here

NFU quotes reference here:

Elizabeth Truss quote reference here

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