In 2018, 12 climate activists entered a branch of the bank Credit Suisse in Lausanne, Switzerland and started playing tennis.
Their prank aimed to draw attention to the bank’s investments in companies involved in the fossil fuel industry. Tennis alluded to the marketing work Roger Federer has done for the bank.
The bank called the police and the 12 activists were taken away.
Following the incident, Credit Suisse filed a complaint, which led to the 12 activists being charged with unlawful trespass. They were later convicted and fined CHF 21,600. The activists then appealed.
On 13 January 2020, a judge at the Tribunal de police de Lausanne, the court dealing with the appeal, overturned the original judgement, according to the broadcaster RTS.
In making the ruling the judge acknowledged unlawful trespass, but also accepted there was a lawful necessity to act.
Testimonies were heard from Jacques Dubochet, a Nobel prize winning chemist, Sonia Seneviratne, a climatologist at ETH Zurich and Jérémy Désir, a former algorithmique trading expert at the bank HSBC.
In his statement the judge said the activists’ actions were necessary and proportionate given the climatic urgency. The legality of their actions related to their non-violent nature, limited duration and low risk of escalation.
One of the lawyers defending the activists described the decision as the most important in her career.
In a press release, Credit Suisse said that it accepted the verdict and would not appeal. Tidjane Thiam, the boss of Credit Suisse, told RTS the activists could come and see him for an open discussion.
Speaking to RTS, Etienne Grisel, a constitutional legal expert at the University of Lausanne, said he does not think the ruling sets a significant legal precedent. He thinks it is a specific case involving private property, where nothing was damaged. The situation would be different if the case related to an action in a public space. And, he does not believe that the ruling sets a precedent for people to break the law on the grounds that their cause is justified. He described this line of thinking as antidemocratic. Voters, via referenda and the law making representatives they elect, create Swiss law through a democratic process.
Swiss parliamentarian and doctor of law Philippe Nantermod, told RTS that it is not the role of a court to decide whether there is a climate emergency. It is a violation of the separation of powers. The courts are not a political body.
The day after the ruling the cantonal public prosecutor said an appeal would be launched against this “surprising decision” which contains political elements and goes beyond the limits of case-law, according to the newspaper 24 Heures.