Do Greenpeace causes deserve immunity from prosecution?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this – protests and degrees of lawbreaking and importance of causes can vary a lot.

But Russel Norman and co-defendant Sara Howell are claiming that if they are convicted for “low level civil disobedience” it would prevent other protests for fear of prosecution.

There are ways to protest without breaking the law, but that’s not part of this story.

Stuff:  Greenpeace activists oil ship protest was just ‘low level disobedience’

Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman and fellow activist Sara Howell appeared in Napier District Court on Friday to apply for a discharge without conviction after admitting a charge of interfering with an oil exploration vessel.

The prosecution

Crown prosecutor Cameron Stuart said the pair caused significant disruption and danger and there was a high level of perseverance and premeditation by the defendants, as evidenced by the fact they acknowledged they rehearsed their moves in advance.

Their actions posed huge risk to them and to the ship’s crew and sensationalised what would have been a peaceful and legal activity”.

“This hearing is not about the morality of the law. It’s not about oil. It’s not about climate change,” Stuart said.

He said the consequences of a conviction would not be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offending. He said the pair had leveraged what they called an “unjust prosecution” as a means of publicising their views.

This raised questions as to how their reputation could be damaged if they were convicted, he said.

The defence

Norman and Howell were represented by Ron Mansfield, said the pair were devoted to fighting climate change and the burning of fossil fuels.

Their views were genuine, well-held, and designed to care for generations to come, Mansfield said.

He said the pair had entered the water at a distance from the vessel that permitted it to avoid them without too much disruption.

He said the danger had been “completely overstated” and the pair could have been removed from the water at any time.

Mansfield said the offending was “low level civil disobedience” and it would be concerning if others undertaking such protests were prevented from doing so because they feared being convicted.

The judge

Judge Arthur Tompkins said that argument “cut both ways” and there may be an argument as to why a conviction was necessary.

Judge Tompkins said other protesters had been convicted in the past and this had not had the “chilling effect” Mansfield suggested.

The verdict – not yet

Judge Tompkins reserved his decision. The pair were remanded until September 24.

The pair faced a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment, or a fine of up to $50,000 for the offence of interfering with or coming within 500m of an offshore ship involved in oil exploration.

The discussion

Protest is an important part of a democratic country.

Laws are generally to protect safety and freedoms.

The offence of interfering or coming close to a ship involved in exploration was contentious. From NZ Petroleum & Minerals:

People are free to protest on the water as they are on land – provided they do not interfere with structures or vessels involved in lawful petroleum and minerals activities.

While a number of laws cover activities at sea, provisions specific to offshore petroleum and minerals activities were introduced following protests that hindered a seismic survey vessel in 2011.

In May 2013 the Crown Minerals Act 1991, which governs the allocation of the Crown’s petroleum and mineral resources, was amended. New offences were introduced for damaging or interfering with structures or ships being used offshore in prospecting, exploration and mining activities – including incursions into specified Non Interference Zones.

Green MP Gareth Hughes in parliament 13 April 2017:

GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does she agree with Dr Russel Norman, who said that section 101B(1)(c) of the Crown Minerals Act 1991, known as the Anadarko Amendment, was “put in place by the Government to protect the interest of big oil and to stifle dissent”?

If the “Anadarko Amendment” is all about protecting people’s safety, why does it apply only to the oil and mining industries, and is this simply a case of one law for us and one law for oil?

Can the Minister confirm that that 2013 amendment, used to charge Dr Norman, was passed under urgency with no consultation and received no New Zealand Bill of Rights Act check, and that polls at the time showed 79 percent of Kiwis wanted to see it withdrawn or sent back to committee?

I remember the opposition to the bill, but I don’t remember the poll, and I can’t find it..



Leave a comment


  1. Gezza

     /  21st July 2018

    Do Greenpeace causes deserve immunity from prosecution?

    Best place to decide that each time is the Courts.

  2. NOEL

     /  21st July 2018

    This reminds me of that Kiwi peace activist who got onto a US Airbase and damaged the tire of a B52. She was charged with a Federal Offence and spent all of her time bitching about the conditions in the prison she was incarcerated in. What did she expect?

    • lurcher1948

       /  21st July 2018

      She poured blood on the tyre of the death bringing machine,doing no physical damage

      • NOEL

         /  21st July 2018

        Could have thrown 100 and 1000 sprinkles the result would have been the same.
        She wasn’t charged for activism but breaking a law.
        Remind me what were Norman and Howell charged with?

  3. artcroft

     /  21st July 2018

    So the Left is arguing they should be allowed to shut down the free speech rights of others AND break the law themselves without fear of prosecution. That’s some sense of entitlement right there.

    • Corky

       /  21st July 2018

      Like a slinger wearing a bullet proof vest, Arty. That type of entitlement can get a owlhoot killed in the real world of natural justice. One law for all.

  4. Gerrit

     /  21st July 2018

    As Gezza said, let the courts decide.

    Some Greenpeace background material that does not read too savoury.

    “In addition to uncovering Greenpeace’s collusion with government and industry, his access to secret financial accounts found that a meager six percent of revenue went to field operations while 11 percent went to legal expenses to attack the organization’s critics and defend members who had run afoul with the law.

    According to classified documents he obtained, an astounding 60 percent of the organization’s revenue went to salaries.”

    All that is Green is not Gold.

  5. Zedd

     /  21st July 2018

    sometimes ‘civil disobedience’ is required to get the public attention (eg Cannabis reform; J-day) BUT as with this.. breaking the law does leave you open to arrest & prosecution, if the police deem it ‘necessary’.. but as M Gandhi & ML King said; NON-violent protest/civil disobedience is the best option, to achieve change ! :/

    • It makes sense to try to avoid things that will get you arrested when trying civil disobedience.

      • Zedd

         /  21st July 2018

        tautoko PG.. BUT… being part of the ‘silent majority’ often get you nowhere 🙂

        • People like Gandhi were prepared to take the consequences, as were the US civil rights activists,

          It’s extraordinary that in ‘the land of the free’ people couldn’t marry a person with a different skin colour until about 50 years ago, and that many blacks didn’t have the vote then, either. Black women, I heard, had it last of all.

        • Grimm

           /  21st July 2018

          The “silent majority” think that Norman is an idiot.

  6. How could courts decide immunity? Courts will enforce law as it stands. I don’t think Greenpeace (or anyone else for that matter) deserve immunity from courts. I thinka any immunity should come from the law.

    • I agree.

      Commonsense should prevail.

      Years ago when someone set themselves alight here, a schoolboy ran into a shop and grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall without wasting time in explanations. He was not charged with theft, although technically it was one. I saw cars speeding to get off a bypass when the police were going to an emergency and there wasn’t room to pass, but I don’t suppose that the drivers were charged.

      Greenpeace has come to think that it’s above the law and gone away from its roots, alas.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  21st July 2018

    I think it’s a badly-conceived law. What is needed is the ability to sue for damages in a cost-effective and meaningful way. The legal eagles need to put their minds to that.

  8. Nookin

     /  21st July 2018

    I am not sure that we really have a good paradigm for activism and protest in NZ. It really favours the protester at the cost of the alleged ogre.

    The installation at Waihopai was deliberately and intentionally damaged at huge cost. No criminal sanction because they believed they were on the side of the angels.

    The Occupy Auckland mob caused significant damage to Aotea Sq. Again, the ratepayers bore the cost.

    I see that Laurel Southern was charged $60,000 by Aussie police for security. She was doing nothing illegal but pays for the cost of security because activists know that the greater the threat to peace and quiet, the greater the cost that their victim will bear. She will be expected to carry the costs of security if she gets a venue in NZ. The protesters will salivate as they see how easy it is to run up a huge bill for her to pay.

    How much did Auckland City pay in costs because a stubborn, misguided activist refused to pay her rates? The courts told her repeatedly that she was wrong.

    We are living in a society which is sucked in by virtue signalling by people who do not give a toss about law and order and the rights of others if it means getting their own way.

  1. Do Greenpeace causes deserve immunity from prosecution? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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