Rishi Sunak hits back at UN criticism of long jail terms for Just Stop Oil protesters

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Rishi Sunak has hit back at criticism from a United Nations expert over long sentences handed to two Just Stop Oil protesters.

The prime minister has said it was “entirely right” to hand “tough sentences” to demonstrators who cause major disruption. “Those who break the law should feel the full force of it,” he said.

The row centres on campaigners who scaled the Dartford Crossing in October 2022.

Morgan Trowland, 40, and Marcus Decker, 34, were jailed for three years and two years and seven months respectively after they used ropes and other climbing gear to scale the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, causing gridlock when police closed it to traffic.

Ian Fry, a UN special rapporteur, has raised the sentences with ministers. He said he was concerned they were “significantly more severe than previous sentences imposed for this type of offending in the past” and that he was worried about the right to “freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

But Mr Sunak hit back, tweeting: “It’s entirely right that selfish protestors (sic) intent on causing misery to the hard-working majority face tough sentences.

“It’s what the public expects and it’s what we’ve delivered.”

Last month, Trowland and Decker lost a bid to challenge their sentences at the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.

In July, the protesters lost an appeal over what their lawyers said were the “extraordinary length” of their jail terms.

In their ruling, the judges acknowledged the “long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience on conscientious grounds” and that the sentences handed to Trowland and Decker went “well beyond previous sentences imposed for this type of offending”.

But Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr said the jail terms were “not excessive” and reflected “Parliament’s will” under new laws enacted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last year.

The legislation introduced a new “fault-based public nuisance offence for what obviously will include non-violent protest behaviour, with a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment”, the appeal judges said.

Lady Carr said the sentences met the “legitimate” aim of deterring others from such offending.

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