Opinion Piece by Guest Contributor: Melanie Strickland
On 22 February 2011, six activists were found guilty of aggravated trespass at Trafford Magistrates Court, following their direct action at Manchester Airport in May 2010, to highlight the threat of climate change and the contribution of the airport to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The activists had pleaded not guilty on the basis that the action was necessary to prevent death and serious injury caused by emissions.
There have been a number of cases in recent years involving activists putting forward a defence of necessity (see, for example, El Coombs’ recent blog). On the whole these have been unsuccessful. But the guilty verdicts of these conscientious, otherwise law abiding people leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Isn’t it time we started questioning our legal system, which legitimises and indeed facilitates environmental destruction on a large scale? The Manchester Airport on Trial activists felt that they had no other option but to take direct action – they said that they were ignored and ‘fobbed off’ by Manchester City Council. They were not able to bring a judicial review of the expansion plans due to the costs involved. Is this ‘justice’?
What can be inferred from the expert testimony for the defendants is that we are badly failing in our duty of care towards the planet. This is having far reaching consequences for all life on earth. Laws must be radically reformed so that human behaviour is regulated to ensure the health and integrity of the Earth in the long term. Anything less means climate injustice for the many, and prevents human beings from achieving their full potential in the community of life on Earth.
The above paragraph may be ‘a beautiful dream’, to quote Cormac Cullinan, author of the book Wild Law, A Manifesto for Earth Justice, but it is certainly not unrealistic when you consider the purpose of law, which is primarily to ensure justice for all. Wild lawyers advocate that legal systems should shift away from the current anthropocentric approach which is proving to be so destructive, and shift towards an ‘eco-centric’ approach. There are encouraging signs that this wild and positive way of thinking is gaining momentum, as organisations and individuals from across the world are signing up to a Global Alliance to secure legal rights for nature.
Melanie works as an in house solicitor at a not for profit organisation. She was initially inspired by the idea of rights for nature about 4 years ago, having been introduced to the concept by a colleague at a UK Environmental Law Association event, and has been actively involved with wild law ever since, writing legal articles to ‘sow’ wild law, drafting a newsletter and organising events.