QUAKERS will re-enact a meeting for worship in Gracechurch Street, London, which led to the now-threatened right of juries to rule according to their convictions.

On Sunday, 7 April, Quakers will meet in silence to defend the right, established during the trial of two Quaker preachers for holding an unlawful assembly in 1670.

The fast-growing Climate Choir will perform at the event, drawing attention to the grave threat posed to this freedom by judges banning defendants from mentioning climate breakdown in their defence. This ban follows the acquittal of defendants in some nonviolent civil resistance cases when they have explained their motivations in court.-

In 1670, the established church held huge political power and suppressed minority faiths. Despite a law preventing dissenters from congregating, two Quakers, William Penn and William Mead, held an open-air meeting for worship and were charged with unlawful assembly. When the jury refused to find Penn and Mead guilty, they were locked up without food and water for two days.

Later the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Sir John Vaughan, ruled that a jury could not be punished on account of the verdict returned. This ensured that juries are free from interference and can make decisions, according to their conscience, after hearing all the evidence.

The creeping ban on defendants discussing their motives as part of their defence is part of an authoritarian crackdown on environmental protest in the UK. Earlier this year the UN special rapporteur on environmental defenders expressed serious concern over the UK’s “draconian” new laws, the use of civil injunctions and restrictions on courtroom evidence.

Led by their faith to draw attention to how rising emissions have pushed the world to the edge of irreversible damage, Quakers are disproportionately represented in such cases. Following a centuries-long tradition of trying to build a better future, six Quakers were recently added to its Court and Prison Register. This register lists Quakers convicted for breaking the law for causes they believe in.

Many more are currently going through the court system, for peaceful action on climate crisis and for opposing the UK weapons industry.

Quaker Phil Laurie said: “These restrictions are currently primarily being used against climate and human rights protestors, but there is no reason why this won’t spread throughout our legal system. This is especially likely to happen when our prosecution service is so underfunded that it is failing us badly.”

The event will take place on Sunday 7 April, beginning at 11am at the Great Fire of London Monument, Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V. Participants will then walk to the Royal Courts of Justice. Hundreds of Quakers, some in historic dress, will re-enact the 1670 Quaker Meeting for Worship which established the right of juries to make decisions according to their conscience. It will be a quiet, peaceful, and legal action.

* Source: Quakers in Britain