THE barrister who spent more than 25 years working as a lawyer – at one point taking the government to the Supreme Court over the expansion of Heathrow – has abandoned his career in protest of what he calls the legal establishment’s support for climate genocide.
Former Government lawyer Tim Crosland, now the director of “climate justice” charity Plan B, renounced his professional status last month after the government approved plans for a new coal mine.
This comes despite warnings from the World Health Organisation that the world is headed for “climate catastrophe” if we surpass the 1.5-degree warming limit set in the Paris Agreement.
Previously Mr Crosland has acted for Tuvalu and other low-lying countries that will be the first to vanish as waters rise.
Mr Crosland, 52, said: “The British government knows full well that human-made climate change will annihilate whole peoples, whole regions of the world, and whole generations. It knows it will devastate our own country too.
“Yet it remains so captive to the fossil fuel industry that it permits the City of London to support 15 per cent of global carbon emissions, accelerates new oil and gas licences in the North Sea and has just announced the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria. This is genocide. It is the ultimate crime against humanity and life on Earth. It is only possible because of the complicity of the courts and certain members of the legal profession.”
Mr Crosland lived in Highbury 30 years ago when he was studying for a law conversion course at what was then the University of North London in Caledonian Road after taking classics and philosophy at Oxford. He quit working for the government in 2015 and then set up Plan B a year later to “hold to account those in power who knowingly take action inconsistent with the 1.5C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement – the lifeline for humanity and for so much other life”.
Explaining his decision to renounce his law qualifications, he said: “I don’t think individual actions make a difference in isolation but I think the collective makes a difference and I think individual actions contribute to that collective.
“And there are a lot of people within my networks who do care about this, and I’m working with a large and growing movement of lawyers who are thinking along similar lines to me, and so I’m not operating in isolation. I mean, this was a particular individual decision that I have made, but it’s part of a wider context.”
While he once advised the government of Nigeria on national security – whose security was undermined by climate policies in the UK, which have contributed to the collapse of the freshwater supply from Lake Chad – he now believes it is not possible to achieve the requisite change “from the inside”.
Instead, Mr Crosland, who turned vegetarian aged seven after feeling a powerful alliance with the natural world, has now taken aim at the courts and their apparent complicity with climate change. An open letter published by Plan B in September and signed by more than 250 lawyers warning that breaching the Paris threshold threatens the mass loss of life, highlighted the role of the City of London and its lawyers in supporting 15 per cent of global carbon emissions.
Mr Crosland shot to fame in 2020 when he breached a Supreme Court embargo about its ruling on the expansion of Heathrow’s airport. Despite being found in contempt of court and being fined £5,000 (in addition to £15,000 costs) he has no regrets over his decision, which carried a risk of going to prison for the father-of-two: he succeeded in getting his message out there by taking a stand, he said.
One of the main financiers of the airport expansion later pulled out while the government ended up backing away from it.
“I wanted to do everything I could to get the truth into the public domain,” he said.
“And I think it worked. In that way, it worked better than I could have hoped. It got a lot of attention. There was a letter signed by more than 100 leading scientists and economists, including the Government’s former chief scientific advisers to David King, Caroline Lucas MP [and] many others to the Supreme Court, written in support of my position.
“While Heathrow hasn’t been cancelled, it’s looking less likely now.”
And why does he believe the Supreme Court “misled” the public on the dangers of Heathrow?
He believes the government put pressure on the court – which he thinks was being threatened with a loss of power over judicial review as the “very vindictive” Johnson government sought to “rein in the role of the courts”.
As the country geared up to host COP26 it could not be seen to have dismissed the Paris Agreement as “irrelevant” when greenlighting the third runway, he added, and so evidence given by the Secretary of State to the Court of Appeal was simply reimagined by Heathrow’s lawyer.
He said: “So there was a moment when the counsel for Heathrow Airport Limited, David Anderson, said to the Supreme Court, ‘my lords I sometimes wonder what would have been so much easier if the Secretary of State for Transport, instead of saying the Paris Agreement was not relevant, had simply said we took the Paris agreement into account. It was just a matter of how much weight we gave it.’
“And I could see something, you could just see the courts going ‘Ah ha! Yes’. And they just kind of jumped on and turned his hypothesis about what the Secretary of State might have said and turned it into a reality.”
As a result, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s ruling, which had found in favour of Mr Crosland over the government, and said the expansion was legal.
He breached the embargo by 22 hours in order to draw attention to the “falsehoods” being peddled by the court, adding: “I wrote to the court and said, what you’ve said in this [ruling]: it’s just not true. You’re telling the public the government took the Paris Agreement into account and therefore this is, you know, a safe project. That was false.”
Since then, Plan B has warned that companies which provide misleading information about the climate crisis or their own contribution to it could face criminal prosecution.
The environmental campaign group also hope to defend climate protesters by arguing the government has failed to align its policies to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.