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UK peace protesters ask law lords to allow Iraq war illegality defense

[JURIST] Lawyers asked the UK law lords on Monday to allow anti-war activists convicted on trespassing charges related to protests of the Iraq war to argue in their defense that the war was illegal. Fourteen Greenpeace protesters [profiles] were convicted of aggravated trespass [Greenpeace press release] in 2004 for attempting to stop or delay a shipment of military equipment to Iraq [Greenpeace briefing, PDF] before the 2003 war began, and a separate group of five protesters have been accused of trying to immobilize US bombers at a British airfield and are scheduled to stand trial later this year.

Defense lawyers told a five-judge panel Monday that the protesters should be allowed to argue that under the Criminal Law Act 1967 they are entitled to use reasonable force and even to commit ostensibly criminal acts in an attempt to prevent a greater crime, in this instance an illegal war of aggression [Wikipedia backgrounder]. Lord Hoffman was publicly skeptical of the argument, suggesting that under its logic British war protestors during World War II could have been entitled to shoot down British Spitfire fighters. The UK Court of Appeals had previously ruled that acting to prevent the commission of a crime could be considered a defense, but in this specific case, the defendants were acting in protest, not to prevent crime. The London Telegraph has more.

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