Significant Protest Case Win for Anthony Williams and Benjamin Ramsey

Another great result for members of Central Chambers’ protest law team as the Crown Prosecution Service fail to overcome legal argument on aggravated trespass
Anthony Williams

On 17th January 2023 at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, Anthony Williams and Benjamin Ramsey secured acquittals for their lay clients accused of aggravated trespass after a two day trial. They were each arrested following an Extinction Rebellion-aligned protest outside the Newsprinters site in Knowsley (which specialises in printing papers including The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Times and the Evening Standard) on 5th September 2020. 

The trial raised interesting issues of land law (including the civil tort of trespass to land), as well as significant arguments involving the right to freedom of expression and the right of lawful assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In particular (and it may seem obvious), the offence of aggravated trespass involves proving that the Defendants were in fact on private land (s68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). A person cannot be guilty of aggravated trespass if they are situated on a highway (s68(5) CJPO).

In this case, the prosecution sought to rely upon Land Registry title documents and local Highways Authority maps in an effort to show that the Defendants were situated on private land as opposed to the highway. After careful cross-examination of witnesses and closer scrutiny of the documents in question, the defence were able to establish that these documents were out of date, carried significant margins of error, and came with substantial caveats, rendering them unreliable. As such, it was argued that the prosecution had not proved the location of the boundary between private land and the highway beyond reasonable doubt.

In his judgment, the District Judge confirmed that he was not satisfied that the prosecution had adduced reliable evidence of the boundary between private land and the highway. As such he concluded that he had doubt as to whether the Defendants were in fact on private land, leading to an acquittal for Tony and Ben’s three clients, alongside a fourth defendant (represented by Ms Rosalind Burgin) charged with the same offence. 

Tony Williams said: “This case is yet another example of why documentary evidence should never simply be taken at face value. It is important to forensically scrutinise all evidence upon which the prosecution tend to rely, even ‘official’ documents, as the devil is very often in the detail. Thankfully, in this case we were able to draw that detail to the Court’s attention and the Defendants were properly acquitted.

Tony Williams and Benjamin Ramsey have specialist knowledge in defending clients accused of criminal offences in the course of a protest or the exercise of their human rights. To instruct Tony or Ben, please contact their clerks by email or telephone.