In 2011 a mock Ecocide trial was held in the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Two fictional Chief Executive Officers were put on trial for causing Ecocide due to their destructive practices in the Athabasca tar sands and the Gulf Oil Spill. The evidence was all based on true events and publicly available documents. The trial was not scripted; the jury was real and the legal teams included some of the key figures in the UK legal field (Michael Mansfield QC prosecuting, Chris Parker QC defending). The trial demonstrated that a law of Ecocide is triable. What was demonstrated was that a law of Ecocide can work in practice, and it garnered international media coverage including The Financial Times, Le Monde, Time magazine, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, and Canada’s CBC. The trial was broadcast live worldwide online by Sky News. You can watch highlights of the day below or watch the full trial here.
The late Micheal Meacher commenting on the 2011 Mock Ecocide Trial
See also: The Guardian, Ecocide Trial video
Al Jazeera’s report on the trial: Big thinker Polly Higgins
It’s official, jury unanimous: the Athabasca Tar Sands found to be a crime of Ecocide. On the 30th of September 2011, in the UK Supreme Court, it took just 50 minutes for the jury to return with two unanimous guilty convictions of Ecocide against the CEO’s of the oil companies operating in the Athabasca Tar Sands. They returned a not guilty verdict for the charge of Ecocide of the Oil Spill.
It was a tense moment waiting for the jury to return with their verdicts; this was not a guaranteed outcome. The court was packed, as was the hall outside where it was being live streamed online by SKY News. People around the world were watching online and following updates on twitter – 120,000 tweets for #ecocidetrial were recorded by lunchtime. It was a remarkable feat to bring into the courtroom for just one day some of the issues that would arise in court for a trial of Ecocide.
See images from the day here, read what some of the papers had to say here: the Independent, Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, Financial Times, CNBC. Le Monde and Brazil’s Mercado spread the message and triggered much tweeting elsewhere; the Netherlands Radio covered it and write-ups include Indymedia, Wild Law UK and Climate Rush.
Here are some responses from some of the supporters of the Ecocide trial:
I fully believe in this cause. Making Ecocide a recognised law will place a cap on the irresponsible actions of fat cats who hide behind corporate shields to destroy lives and harm the planet.
Once upon a time people did grievous harm to the environment without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. That defence is no longer available, and that sure knowledge we now have entails equally sure moral obligations. In this context, the idea of establishing the crime of Ecocide is both timely and compelling.
The Ecocide trial is a very important step in waking us up to the violence which is the foundation of the current economy. We need another model that is non-violent, a model which makes peace with the earth. Ecocide must stop. The ideal of limitless growth is leading to limitless violations of the rights of the Earth and of the rights of nature. This is Ecocide. We need to stop the destruction of the very basis of life on Earth and of human survival.
Penalties available under our current legal system no longer match the complexity of crimes where there can be various offenders and a number of injured parties, including non-humans. Courts trying the crime of Ecocide could offer restorative justice sentencing alongside traditional sentencing. Read the sentencing guidelines here.
In a Restorative Hearing, the person(s) convicted of Ecocide are invited to engage in a round-circle dialogue of deep enquiry to explore possible restoration and remediation requirements. Not only for humans, it can also include restoration for the benefit of non-humans, whatever is identified as the harmed ecosystem. In the case of non-humans, experts such as an ornithologist, or an ecologist can speak to represent their best interests. This is similar to how a guardian will represent a child or a mentally disabled person in court. A skilled facilitator holds the space in which the parties present can explore possible solutions, and they may reach an agreement as to how to heal the harm. The agreement reached will be different for each case, and is subject to judicial orders. The judge then has the option of imposing a sentence that can include specific steps for reparations and restoration to be put in place.
Restorative Justice has been used widely in other types of crimes where individuals and communities have been harmed. Evidence so far demostrates the effectiveness of restorative justice provisions to deter crime. For more information of this process visit the UK Restorative Justice Council website.
Restoring Justice: Bannerman & Tench sentenced for Ecocide
On Saturday 31st March 2012 the sentencing of two fictional chief executive officers – Robin Bannerman of Global Petroleum Company (GPC) and John Tench of Glamis Group (GG) took place in a world first event held at the University of Essex organised by the Hamilton Group and theIDCR. Bannerman and Tench were both found guilty of committing Ecocide as a consequence of their oil extractive operations in the Athabasca tar sands, last year in the Ecocide mock trial held at the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
The two fictional chief executive officers – Robin Bannerman of Global Petroleum Company (GPC) and John Tench of Glamis Group (GG) await sentencing.
The result of the sentencing? Bannerman’s sentence was deferred for six months, Tench got four years in jail… read on to find out more.
• Watch a video of the day and interviews with restorative justice participants
• Read about the sentence as summarised by the Judge, His Honour Mr Recorder Lawrie QC
• Watch an inspirational message from Vandana Shiva
• Read an article on the sentencing – Shareholder Return – ‘Nuremburg Defence’?
A breakdown of the day
Following representations by prosecuting barrister Michael Mansfield QC both offenders were offered the opportunity to enter into a restorative justice conference with the victims. Bannerman accepted whilst Tench declined.
Polly Higgins watches Micheal Mansfield QC request the defendants be offered the opportunity of Restorative Justice (2011)
The restorative justice conference took place in a private room facilitated by Lawrence Kershen, chair of the Restorative Justice Council, where Mr Bannerman was joined by Roger Cowe – GPC’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Paddy Briggs – Chairman of GPC’s pension fund. Bannerman also came face to face with representatives of those who had been adversely affected by the tar sands Ecocide: Jess Philimore represented wider humanity, Carine Nadal represented the Earth, Philippa De Boissiere represented future generations, Peter Smith represented birds and Gerald Amos provided a voice for indigenous peoples.
Meanwhile, a talk was given on the tar sands by internationally renowned environmental photographer Garth Lenz and presentations made from Essex academics on the political, legal, business and psychological dimensions of environmentalism. Mr Tench also featured on a panel discussion highlighting some very real concerns about the Ecocide Act from an industry perspective.
Not just a sentence — rather a just sentence
When the court reconvened for the formal legal sentencing, the Judge deferred Bannerman’s sentencing for six months allowing him time to make true his promises agreed to in the restorative justice conference which included setting up working groups to look into amongst other things, funding alternative energy sources.
The Restorative Justice Conference.
Mr Tench, who refused to take part in the restorative justice process and showed no remorse for committing Ecocide, was sentenced to four years in jail in addition to receiving a formal Restoration Order. The Restoration Order requires Tench to undertake a number of measures including suspending operations in the tar sands until the area affected is restored to an acceptable level, meeting the financial costs of restoration and publicising his actions.
The Mock Ecocide Trial demonstrated the legal premise of establishing guardians to speak on behalf of the non-human world within a top tier governance structure. In March 2017, the High Court of Uttarakhand, India, decreed that the river Ganges and Yamama, as well as all their tributaries and streams (120 rivers in total) are legal persons. In New Zealand, the Te Awa Tupua bill was passed, granting the Whanganui river will have its own legal identity with all corresponding rights, duties and responsibilities (see here for more details). This is the emergence of a wider Earth law approach; both India and New Zealand have granted legal civil rights to non-human entities; the next step is to implement the final tier of justice. See the Governance Pyramid for more detail of how this can be done.