It was a particularly mournful scene outside the Crown Court in Reading this morning as a group of protesters gathered together for a silent vigil.

The dozen or so men and women were there to protest on Friday April 19 for the right of juries to give their verdict according to their conscience.

But what does this mean? Molly Fletcher said this is part of a series of protests called ‘Defend our Juries.’

“What we are making people aware of is that juries have an absolute right to convict according to their conscience.

“Even if a judge says the law says this, if someone believes they are morally right and have decided whether they are guilty or not guilty they should be given a voice to express that.

“Basically, we are rapidly arriving at a situation where anybody who protests against anything they believe is morally wrong like climate crisis, racism, will not have a defense in law.”

This means that even though a judge can decide if someone is guilty or not guilty and ultimately hand out sanctions, a juror is allowed as an individual to express their own verdict.

Mrs Fletcher said “In general at the moment defences are being removed from protestors. For instance in Bristol last year protestors were found not guilty of toppling the Edward Colston statue.

“The jury believed it was proportional. The use of that defense has been removed.

“Last year nine women were found not guilty of criminal damage for smashing the windows on HSBC quarters to highlight their support for fossil fuels.”

Mrs Fletcher said that these women were found not guilty under the defense called consent, which has since been removed by the attorney general.

Resident Lucy Harding said that this is also an issue for defendants as they are not being allowed to disclose to a jury what their motivations are.

In this sense, something is simply right or wrong. If we take for example the toppling of the statue in Bristol, the defendants could have been convicted of criminal damage without explaining they were protesting the glorification of a slave owner.

“If it’s to do with climate change they mustn’t mention climate change,” she said. “People have actually been put in prison for that.”

“They can’t mention fuel poverty. At the same time no body is actually telling the juries that this is a basic right.”