Assemblies and the Courts

Steven Cammiss*, Brian Doherty, Graeme Hayes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


To what extent is the protest trial a threat or an opportunity to protesters? This chapter argues that it is both. Trials potentially provide a site of resistance and the means for ongoing struggle and contestation, while simultaneously threatening to repress and restrict protesters’ voices. While protesters may wish to accept prosecution and conviction as the necessary consequence of direct action, their trial may nonetheless enable them to raise their political claims; foreground motives, ideals, and politics; speak truth to power; and address a wider audience beyond the courtroom. Recognizing that the court is a social space, not merely a site of adjudication, reveals the normative function of a trial as a social and communicative activity where the defendant is called to account. Yet there is significant variation in how trials serve this purpose and the degree to which they provide opportunities or constraints for activists. By contrasting two significant protest cases in the UK (the ‘Stansted 15’ and the ‘Colston 4’), the chapter not only reveals the extent to which some protest trials
are more ‘political’ than others but suggests that one explanation lies in the availability and interpretation of legal defences which can serve to open up the courtroom as a political site. In this regard, the Stansted 15 were constrained by the process while the Colston 4 were effectively able to place Colston and Bristol City Council on trial.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Peaceful Assembly
EditorsTabatha Abu El-Haj, Michael Hamilton, Thomas Probert, Sharath Srinivasan
ISBN (Electronic)9780197674901
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2024


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