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Monday, 9 October, 2000, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Trident 'legal' says Crown
Graffiti at Faslane
Anti-nuclear protesters have made their presence known
Three judges have been asked to rule that Britain's nuclear arsenal is legal as a challenge is mounted against a contentious ruling by a Scottish sheriff.

Last October, Sheriff Margaret Gimblett ruled that three women who vandalised a Trident installation at Loch Goil were not acting illegally.

In doing so, she accepted that they had shown no criminal intent.

The three women argued that the International Court of Justice in the Hague had ruled that nuclear weapons were illegal.

Sheriff Gimblett's decision is being challenged by Scotland's senior law officer, the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh.

There was no evidence of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to anyone

Simon Di Rollo, the Crown
He is seeking a ruling to prevent anti-nuclear protestors from arguing that Trident missiles are illegal.

Angela Zelter, 48, Ellen Moxley, 45, and Bodil Ulla Roder, 45, had been accused of causing 80,000 damage to a research lab at the Faslane submarine base on the River Clyde.

The sheriff agreed with defence arguments that Trident's warheads could not be used selectively and would inevitably kill millions of people

For that reason, she said, the women were right to see the weapons as a breach of international law and could take action to stop their use.

'Incompetent' course

Sheriff Gimblett, who described herself as "a fairly junior sheriff" said she had been faced with the task of deciding on questions of international law.

The Crown cannot appeal against the acquittal, so in a rare move, the lord advocate is seeking a judicial ruling in the hope of ensure another court cannot make a similar decision.

Simon Di Rollo, for the Crown, told the judges that the course adopted by the court during the anti-nuclear demonstrators trial was incompetent.

Trident sub at sea
The sheriff ruled Trident was illegal
"There was no evidence of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to anyone," he said.

The Crown argued that in a Scottish criminal court Scots Law should be applied and challenged the leading of evidence on the content of international law at the women's trial.

Sheriff Gimblett allowed the evidence of three defence witnesses, who were regarded as experts on the development and content of international law related to nuclear weapons, despite onjections by the fiscal.

Mr Di Rollo argued that there was no general rule of international law banning Britain from possessing or deploying nuclear weapons.

No threat

He said there was no evidence or basis in law to decide that Britain was in breach of its interantional obligations. Britain has not at any time made a threat to use its nuclear weapons.

He also argued that there was no justification in the law for damaging and destroying property to pursue an objection to them.

Among the questions posed in the lord advocate's reference to the appeal judges is whether any rule of international law justifies an individual causing damage in pursuit of an objection to nuclear weapons.

The hearing before the appeal court is expected to last all week with a ruling to follow at a later date.

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04 Oct 00 | Scotland
Protesters target Trident ruling
17 Jan 00 | Scotland
Judges to examine Trident case
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