THEIR cause: saving the planet from a climate change crisis.

Their tactics: getting arrested and causing as much disruption as possible.

The former is a concern that most people share, but the latter has proved more controversial - albeit effective in grabbing attention.

Almost 2,000 Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters were arrested at the group's 'Autumn Uprising' in London last month, and about 50 of them were from Oxfordshire.

Oxford lawyer John Briant has spent his spare time touring the county's growing XR groups, ensuring they can make an informed choice before sacrificing their clean criminal records in the name of the cause.

ALSO READ: Meet some of Oxfordshire's Extinction Rebellion activists

He said: "Many people taking part have never been arrested before, and have had no interaction with the law or the police.

"I've tried to provide an education and understanding as to what the law is, what the consequences of breaking the law are, what the reality of being arrested is and what it's like to go through the court process.

"By providing people with that understanding, it allows them to choose their actions and what they are willing to do.

"It's really important that people choose, knowing the consequences."

The criminal defence barrister, based at Reeds in the city centre, has represented clients accused of murder, drug importation and multi-million pound frauds throughout the course of his 25-year career.

He began representing Extinction Rebellion protesters in November 2018, and has since helped to educate hundreds about the justice system as their environmental movement mushrooms.

ALSO READ: Wantage vicar arrested at Extinction Rebellion protests

Mr Briant said climate change is something everyone is concerned about, and it has been a 'joy and a privilege' to support the activists.

He said: "It was wonderful to be representing people who were being arrested because of their principles.

"I was amazed by the courage everyone showed whilst going through the pretty traumatic process of arrest and detention."

Images of activists being carried away by police were splashed across the press, and almost made the process look fun and care-free.

Oxford Mail:

Picture: Yui Mok/ PA Wire

Once the crowds of fellow activists faded, however, that person was faced with police interview and potential court proceedings.

Mr Briant explained: "The process of arrest itself can be pretty traumatic, especially for people who have never been arrested before.

"When people get arrested, they are with this community of people who are also taking action, but when it gets to court it's kind of a like you're on your own.

"It's a lonely process, when you're facing the machinery of the criminal justice system."

He said arriving at the police station can feel like a 'complete loss of power', adding: "You're told where to go, put in a room and told when you can and can't come out. It can be really daunting.

"In this country, a lot of people just don't know what the law is or how the system works.

"I think that's kind of messed up - I think it's something everybody should have some basic understanding of. It's part of the fabric of our society."

ALSO READ: Formula 1 worker from Eynsham writes about his XR experience

Despite the daunting nature of arrest, Mr Briant said he noticed a 'stark difference' in how protesters were dealt with by police compared to 'normal' arrestees.

He added: "They were treated in a far more dignified fashion than is normal.

"The people who we label as 'criminals' are actually just human beings, who through circumstance, environment and lots of different factors, have come to be where they are.

"There is a dehumanisation - but they are still just people. The way we talk about people in the criminal justice system and judge them and relate to them is a big deal.

"For me, 'normal' people getting arrested and having convictions and going through that process is part of a change in understanding."

Oxford Mail:

Police at the London protests. Pic: Jonathan Brady/ PA Wire

During the latest protests he spent 20 hours a day on a channel on the Telegram messenger app he had set up for protesters, providing a platform for people to ask questions related to arrest and the implications of that.

He said: "Questions ranged from 'how will arrest impact my marriage or my job' to 'I don't want to be arrested, how can I avoid it?'

"Everybody has their own individual circumstances, and my advice is absolutely tailored to the individual and what they want to achieve."

He acknowledged there is some conflict between his role as a lawyer - being aware of the pressures the criminal justice system is under - and as a supporter of a movement that aims to further disrupt that.

ALSO READ: Case dropped against Extinction Rebellion activists from Oxford

He said: "For me, I'm as passionate about justice and the criminal justice system as XR are about climate change.

"I've spent 25 years working in the system and 20 of those dealing with people under arrest at the police station - I know what the experience of being arrested is like."

Asked what his key messages are to people considering arrest, he said: "I advise people to educate themselves around what the law is and how the system works, what the consequences are and the potential implications for them.

"We have found that for a lot of people who are retired, there are very few consequences and many are absolutely willing to get fully involved.

"If you're a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer, the consequences can potentially be career-threatening."

About 500 people quizzed him on the Telegram chat, and he has represented between 80 or 90 protesters going through the justice process, either at court or at the police station.

Mr Briant said: "The feedback I got from those who were arrested was that having someone they knew, having met or communicated with beforehand, on the end of the phone or coming to the police station in person made a real difference for people going through it.

"I think it was very reassuring.

"I was also blown away by the feedback, thanks and gratitude for both the professional and voluntary assistance I provided during all of the protests.

"This job can be really difficult and can be a fairly thankless task, but with Extinction Rebellion participants, the feedback and thanks have been almost overwhelming."

ALSO READ: School commends pupils who took part in climate protests

Many Oxfordshire arrestees are still awaiting to hear if they will face court proceedings or not.

Oxford Mail:

Police making an arrest in London last month. Pic: Aaron Chown/ PA Wire

Mr Briant said: "The Crown Prosecution Service has to consider if it's in the public interest to proceed with minor charges for 1,500-2,000 people - there's the cost of lawyers, court costs, prosecution costs, all for each individual case.

"Then, if they don't deal with it, it might be seen as turning a blind eye. And [for protesters] what disruption have the arrests caused? There is a balance to be reached somewhere.

"It's tricky - the government presumably doesn't want to ignore it, but is it really a good use of funds in the criminal justice system, which is stretched, to proceed?"

He said after the November 2018 protests, the majority were not prosecuted as it was decided it was not in the public interest.

There have been convictions since then, however, including Oxford XR protester Raga Woods, who was given a nine-month conditional discharge at court last week.

Also last week, the High Court ruled that the Met Police was unlawful in enforcing a London-wide ban on XR protests last month.

Hundreds of protesters who broke that ban were arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Activists say police could now face claims for false imprisonment.

Mr Briant says he will continue to offer support to XR activists in need of advice and representation.