NEWS IN FOCUS: Hot Issue - Should charities break the law in taking part in direct action?

Stephen Lloyd, partner at Bates Wells and Braithwaite


Charities should be able to take part in demonstrations and direct action but whether they should break the law is a more difficult question. Sometimes a law is outdated and has lost all moral basis. Breaking such a law might be a brilliant piece of publicity or justified in helping a charity's beneficiaries, such as freeing slaves in a country where slavery is lawful or mass trespasses by ramblers. On the other hand, trashing a fast-food outlet would not be.

Anita Neville, head of press and campaigns at WWF-UK


WWF would not support breaking the law. We believe direct action is an important tool for charities working for change. Indeed, some people see direct action by the not-for-profit sector as our raison d'etre - but it needs to be used appropriately. Sometimes more can be achieved by sitting around a table and talking. But often the greatest impact is had when both approaches are used. Many charities risking arrest do so outside of their charitable status, such as limited companies.

Ian Willmore, media co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth


There is, however, a duty on every citizen in a democratic society to obey the law. This applies to citizens acting collectively through NGOs. But this is not an absolute duty. Civil disobedience has a long and honourable history in this country.Those who choose to break the law must do so peacefully and publicly and be prepared to account for their actions in court.I have little time for those who break the law without first considering lawful ways in which they can make their point.

Rosie Chapman, director of policy at the Charity Commission


Charities staff or trustees should always act within the law, however strongly they might feel about a particular issue. For example, if they were to act unlawfully when taking part in demonstrations or participating in other forms of direct action, their charity could be associated in the public mind with breaking the law. This may have an adverse impact on the public reputation of that charity, or on the public reputation of charities in general.

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