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The Moral Maze

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Summary

Ethical issues

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Episode 1: Direct Action

Summary

The so-called Colston Four did not deny pulling down a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, but last week in Bristol they were cleared of causing criminal damage. They argued that they were protesting for racial equality, "on the right side of history", and a jury found in their favour. The four were celebrated by crowds outside the courthouse, part of a tradition, it seemed, of activists bringing social change by whatever means necessary. Their critics, on the other hand, say this is an invitation to vandalism since it sends a message that it is OK to take whatever action you choose to promote your cause. If your right to protest allows you to march against injustice should it also extend to the right to glue yourself to a road or topple a statue? This is the latest in a series of cases where juries have cleared protestors, despite there being no dispute about the facts. When the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion was acquitted in case with many parallels, he said it showed that "ordinary people, unlike the judiciary, are able to see the broader picture." While a jury decision cannot legally set a precedent or influence another case, several MPs have expressed anger and concern about the implications of this verdict. They argue that the case should have been tried somewhere neutral and that the expert witness should not have been an historian but a specialist in property rights. Who is right? Is history a legitimate defence after protestors smash up something that offends them? Are the rules being bent? And if so, is that what juries are for?

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ProducerOlive Clancy

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