The Memo: Climate protesters cleared of causing damage to HSBC London HQ

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Climate protesters cleared of causing damage to HSBC London HQ

Chelsey Stanborough – 27 November 2023

In early 2021, nine protesters from the climate group Extinction Rebellion protested at HSBC’s HQ in London, shattering custom-made windows with various tools. They wore the slogan ‘better-broken windows than broken promises’ referencing the bank’s involvement in fossil fuels. Controversially, the individuals have been cleared in court for £500,000 worth of damage after a three-week trial. The question wasn’t whether or not they had caused the damage - as the defendants had accepted that this was the case - but rather whether the damage constituted lawful protest (which is a bit of a grey area).

The UK has seen a rise in protests over the last few years, with groups like Just Stop Oil gaining significant media attention. In April last year, the Police, Crime, Sentencing Courts Bill 2022 became an act of parliament, and was seen as a big significant shift in UK human rights law, particularly the right to protest. The act granted legal authority to police to restrict a protest if it resulted in serious public disorder, damage to property or disruption to life in the community.

Since the change, analysts have highlighted the impact that the act has had on the way these cases are handled in court. When Just Stop Oil protestors suspended themselves from the Dartford Crossing Bridge, the disruption it had caused, and the danger involved was sufficient for one of the protestors to receive a three-year prison sentence – intended to deter anyone from trying something similar.

After the court’s decision in the HSBC case, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion stated that they would continue to protest these matters. In response, HSBC has announced plans to dedicate more time and resources to better security, to prevent these events from happening in the future. As protests continue, we are likely to see an increasing number of companies seeking legal advice for their protection and security, and the full impact of the Police, Crime, Sentencing Courts Bill 2022 will come to the fore.

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