In October 1908, Christabel was charged, together with her mother and Flora Drummond, with ‘conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace’. She had a law degree from the University of Manchester, receiving honours on her LLB exam. Though unable, as a woman, to practise professionally, she conducted the defence at the two-day trial.
The proceedings that have been taken against us have been taken out of malice and for vexation. I think I shall have little difficulty in proving this, because of the attitude which the authorities have taken against us from the beginning of the agitation, which has been in progress for the past three years.
[A] very serious scandal has been unearthed in the course of these proceedings. We have had it sworn in the witness box that one of the justices… has allowed himself to be coerced by the Government, and has settled in conjunction with them whether a certain lady, charged in connection with this agitation, was guilty, before the evidence was heard, and… [he] and the Government had, moreover, decided beforehand what term of imprisonment should be inflicted upon that lady.
Now, this policy of the Government of weighting the scales against us is not of interest only to us, but is of interest to the whole community. In the course of British history we have seen many struggles for the purification of our judicial system… It has been left to the twentieth century – it has been left to these so-called democratic days – to see our judicial system corrupted for party ends. I am glad we have been able to perform the public duty and service of doing something to attack this evil while it is in the bud. I am quite sure that if we had not been privileged to unearth this very serious scandal, the process of corruption would have gone on until a fair trial was absolutely impossible in the case of those charged with political offences. And if injustice creeps into political cases, it would not be long before the same corruption was prevalent in every court in the land, and in the case of every person brought up under some charge…
The Home Secretary and his colleagues have disgraced and degraded themselves. They have been false to their duty, they have tried to destroy the liberties which it has taken so long to build up…
These proceedings have been taken against us out of malice and in order to lame, in an illegitimate way, a political enemy. Take the form of the summons. We are not openly charged with the offence of illegal assembly. If we have in any way broken the law, we have broken it in that way. The only charge that could possibly be preferred against us is that of illegal assembly.
Now, why have the authorities, why have the Government feared this course? The reason is that they want to keep us in the police-court. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that by this means they will succeed in prejudicing the public against us. We know perfectly well that up till recently the general public shunned the police-court as a disgraceful place… We have done something to raise its status in the public eye… Political offenders are brought here in order that something might be done to smirch their character…
Another reason the authorities have feared to charge us with unlawful assembly is that they dare not see this case come before a jury. They know perfectly well that if this case were heard before a jury of our countrymen we should be acquitted….
This is a Star Chamber, and it is in order to huddle us into prison without a fair trial that these proceedings have been taken in their present form… yes, we are deprived of a trial by jury. We are also deprived of the right of appeal against a magistrate’s decision. Very, very carefully has this decision been thought out; very, very cunningly has it been thought out to hedge us in on every side, and to deprive us of our rights in the matter.
Excerpts taken form ‘Suffrage and the Pankhursts’, ed Jane Marcus, Routledge