5 September 2019

Four Extinction Rebellion protestors charged with disrupting Brisbane traffic will try to set a new legal precedent; Emma Dorge explained: “I’m pleading not guilty on the basis of the extraordinary emergency defence… We’re in the midst of a crisis and that’s the climate crisis, we believe we’ve essentially been forced to break the law to avert a far more catastrophic outcome.” The Queensland benchbook (a guide for judges on how to instruct a jury) sets out the test: “a person in an emergency cannot always weigh up and deliberate about what action is best to take. [They] must act quickly and do the best he can. If you consider that an ordinary person with ordinary powers of self control could not reasonably have been expected to act differently, or if the prosecution has not satisfied you beyond reasonable doubt of the contrary, you must acquit.” That hurdle will be tough to clear. But before even reaching that point, the court must be satisfied that the accused was acting “under the stress of an extraordinary emergency” — and if the protestors can get a ruling that climate change is legally recognised as an extraordinary emergency, that will be significant regardless of the final outcome of the case.