Trident "Disarmers" Acquitted
Based on ICJ Opinion

- John Burroughs


On October 21, 1999, Sheriff Margaret Gimblett instructed the jury at Greenock Sheriff court, Scotland, to acquit Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ulla Roder, all members of Trident Ploughshares 2000. They had been charged with causing about 100,000 in damage to an acoustic research barge at the Faslane naval base in Loch Goil that is part of the United Kingdom's nuclear-armed Trident submarine program. The action took place on June 8, 1999, during the war over Kosovo.

Relying on the ICJ nuclear weapons opinion, Sheriff Gimblett said that after listening to international law professor Francis Boyle and other defense experts, and "in the absence of any expert contradictory evidence from the Crown":

"I have to conclude that the three accused in company with many others were justified in thinking that Great Britain in their use of Trident not simple possession, the use and deployment of Trident allied with that use and deployment at times of great international unrest, coupled with a first strike reservation policy and in the absence of any indication from any government official then or now that such use fell into the very strict category suggested by the International Court of Justice in their opinion, then the threat or use of Trident could be construed as a threat, has indeed been construed as a threat by other states and as such is an infringement of international and customary law. [T]he three accused took the view that if it was illegal and given the horrendous nature of nuclear weapons, that they had the obligation in terms of international law, never mind morality to do the little they could to stop the going about deployment and use of nuclear weapons in a situation which could be construed as a threat. It follows I think that if I consider that Miss Zelter, Miss Roder and Miss Moxley were justified in the first leg of their defense, and had given that as the principal reason for their defense that the Crown has a duty to rebut that defence. They have not done so…"

The government has sought "review" of points of law raised by the decision, though not the acquittal itself, in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, Scotland's highest court. A date for the hearing on the merits before the Scottish high court has not been set, but it will likely be late this year or during 2001. For more information, see

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