Solidarity is our best defence! Get in touch with BDS. We will support you regardless!
On 28th May, 8 defendants facing serious charges from the #KillTheBill demo on 21st March this year had their first appearance on court. We accompanied in support, several of them chose to plead guilty. We have written this text to point out the dangers of pleading guilty to this charge, and to point out that there is still time to change to a ‘not guilty’ plea.
Bristol Defendant Solidarity will support all defendants to our utmost capacity, regardless of the legal strategies they choose. But we believe that pleading guilty to riot is not in anyone’s best interest. For a start, a charge of riot is very rarely used and it is usually a political strategy with implications beyond the individuals who have been targeted with this draconian charge. The best strategy is to fight to win.
Here’s some reasons why a guilty plea may not be the best option in this case:
Some solicitors don’t and can’t give the best advice. Local solicitors are likely never to have experienced a riot case before. While solicitors are bound by professional codes of conduct, there are a few firms who have proved their commitment to political defences again and again over the years. This means they can be trusted to be on your side and gives them the experience and detailed knowledge to offer your best defence.
We believe some solicitors have advised their clients to plead guilty without having obtained all the necessary evidence. The prosecution’s case is based on evidence from the police. The police were not the only ones present, and they are not unbiased observers. As Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS) we have access to timelines from trained independent Legal Observers, medics, and witnesses and victims of police violence. Footage from different sources can give very different narratives of events, as has been proved time and time again. This evidence can make a big difference. Defences of self-defence, defence of others and preventing criminal assaults by the police in particular will rely on evidence that is unlikely to be willingly supplied by the police themselves.
Riot convictions are very hard to secure. There’s a reason that riot charges are rarely used. When you indicate a plea of not guilty in your first hearing, there are many strategies you can take. Even if the Crown Prosecution Service has sufficient evidence to show that you were present, and engaged in some of the actions they allege, this doesn’t mean that they can demonstrate you should be charged with riot rather than the more usual public order charges of affray, violent disorder or section 4 of Public Order Act. The defences that will be most appropriate to you depend on your individual case, and must be chosen based on evidence available to the prosecution and the defence. Pleading guilty does the prosecution’s work for them. If you fight this charge, you’ve got a good chance of winning – or at least improving your situation.
You can’t rely on getting a sentence reduction for pleading guilty. In theory, sentences can be reduced by up to a third for pleading guilty. However, sentencing statistics don’t show this reduction, suggesting that judges might increase the starting point for sentences before this reduction.
If the cops think they can get away with it, they’ll do it again. The CPS has gone out on a limb with this excessive and punitive use of riot charges. If they don’t make them stick, in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is a disproportionate, politically opportunistic charge, then they might think twice before trying it again. If they get easy wins from guilty pleas, then they’ll try riot charges again. There are still suspects in Avon&Somerset Police’s gallery who have not yet been arrested, and they may be impacted by this. This is a charge which can win through sheer intimidation of defendants. Solidarity is our best defence.
There are political pressures here. In the case of the 21st March we’ve seen national political interest from the right wing government, and desires for revenge, punishment and ‘making the rioters pay’ will shape the case. We’ve seen this in the past time and time again, with punitive sentencing following political disorder, such as against targeted individuals who attended protest supporting Gaza in 2009.
Securing punitive convictions will affect the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – both deterring opposition, the modern day head on a stake, and supporting the narrative of disruptive protestors as a threat to society that needs to be controlled.
You have other options!
* A specialised and experienced protest solicitor will guide you based on your instruction and your best legal interest. This is why we advise never to use a duty solicitor at the station, and recommend HJA solicitors.- https://www.hja.net/
* Get all the evidence available for your defence to support your case before making a decision.
Instruct your solicitors to get in touch with BDS to get all the evidence available.
* It’s not too late to change your plea! Riot is an indictable only offence – this means you can only give an ‘indication’ of your plea at Magistrate’s Court – your actual plea entry will be at Crown Court. Please get in touch with us, or with our recommended solicitors to explore your options for withdrawing your plea, and switching solicitors to one who will support you to fight this draconian charge as soon as possible.
* Get in touch with BDS. We will support you regardless. We can give you Information on your rights, to solidarity through arrest, court & beyond. We can provide emotional support.
Bristol Defendant Solidarity: mob – 07510283424 / email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Emotional support: CollectiveCareBristol@riseup.net
Injury Support: email@example.com
Prisoners Support from Bristol ABC: firstname.lastname@example.org
Love and Rage, Bristol Defendant Solidarity