The trial of a Stroud woman accused of holding a ‘freedom’ rally in breach of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions last November had to be adjourned today because of a last-minute defence submission that could have legal ramifications nationally, writes John Hawkins.
Debbie Hicks has denied failing to comply with Covid regulations by holding the event attended by about 100 people in Stroud on November 7, 2020.
She is said to have breached the Coronavirus Act while the Stroud area was in Tier One and is alleged to have failed to leave the Stratford Park site when requested.
At today’s hearing at Cirencester Courthouse, Graham Dono, prosecuting, explained to District Judge Nicholas Wattam today that Ms Hicks’ lawyer had just shared with him legal information that needed careful examination.
Mr Dono said the Crown Prosecution Service nationally needed to give the information full consideration because making the wrong decision about it could have ramifications throughout the country in courts dealing with alleged Covid-19 legislation breaches.
“In light of the new information and because of the press interest in this case, along with many other similar cases in the pipeline nationwide, I believe this case needs an in-depth review by the Crown Prosecution Service’s headquarters in London to make a national decision on these protest rallies which we say were in contravention of the Emergency Coronavirus legislation,” he said.
“I feel somewhat hamstrung in trying to address this legal argument without advice from the CPS nationally. ”
Judge Wattam said: “As the outcome may have consequences elsewhere it is only right that the CPS review the case in light of the new information.
“In the circumstances it is regrettable that we will have to adjourn this trial for a further case management hearing on July 20 in Cheltenham.”
Ms Hicks was released on unconditional bail until the next court hearing.
The prosecution allege she to failed to comply with the Secretary of State’s directions by holding a ‘freedom’ event during lockdown.
Around 100 people with banners and placards gathered in Stratford Park for the ‘Stroud Freedom Rally’ at lunchtime on November 7, 2020.
Ms Hicks is also facing a separate magistrates court trial on July 12 on a charge of live streaming a video from her phone inside Gloucestershire Royal Hospital on December 28, 2020.
She has pleaded not guilty in that case to using threatening, abusive words and behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.