Two courtrooms will set aside a day a week for nearly five months to deal with hundreds of cases after the Extinction Rebellion protests in London.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court will have two rooms handling just the protesters for one day a week, with more than 50 every Friday due to be summonsed.
The Metropolitan Police said 10 people have already been through the courts, with seven convicted of a criminal offence and three cases discontinued. The City of London court will have its first 35 protester hearings on Friday.
One lawyer said the scale of cases “beggars belief”.
More than 1,000 people were arrested during the direct action in London over April and so far 232 files of evidence have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The Metropolitan Police said they would be pushing for all the 1,151 people arrested, including Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott, to face charges, after the capital came to a standstill.
So far 180 have been charged, one cautioned for outraging public decency, and 32 released with no further action. Those remaining are still under consideration.
Extinction Rebellion’s tactics included asking volunteers to deliberately get arrested to cause maximum disruption at roadblocks on Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, while others glued themselves to trains and buildings.
Solicitor Raj Chada, from Hodge Jones and Allan, a firm representing about 300 of the protesters, said the prosecutions are a waste of money.
He said: “To prosecute 1,000 people for peaceful protests beggars belief.
“At a time when more and more violent crimes aren’t being prosecuted the CPS has decided to waste taxpayers’s money by dragging all of those arrested from Extinction Rebellion in front of the courts.
“Figures show that around 9% of crimes in the UK lead to a criminal charge, yet when it comes to peaceful protesters they are trying to charge 100%.
“The simple fact is that most of those protesters will get nothing more than a conditional discharge or fine.
“How can this amount of court time and money be wasted on this? The priority should be to tackle the climate crisis that threatens us rather than the prosecution of peaceful protesters.”
Figures for 2018 show that 443,000 out of 4.6m recorded crimes resulted in a criminal charge or summons in England and Wales, a proportion of about 9.6%.
Extinction Rebellion said their activists would welcome the opportunity to have their day in court, but said the burden on the justice system was “unprecedented”, adding it would “impact the day to day work” of the court.
The group said: “With most defendants likely to receive a conditional discharge, the waste of court time and resource is unjustifiable.”
A senior officer from the Met Police said the protesters had chosen to ignore restrictions put in place by police to try to limit the disruption.
Commander Jane Connors said: “The serious disruption caused to people in central London during the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in April was beyond unacceptable.
“As ever, our policing focus was to balance the right to protest while ensuring Londoners could continue to go about their daily business.
“However, protesters continually chose to ignore the conditions imposed by the MPS in order to keep London moving. As a result an exceptionally large number of arrests were made in order to contain the serious disruption that was being caused.”
She said it had impacted local policing, with officers diverted away from their duties to work 12-hour shifts.
A CPS spokesman said the hundreds of files from police would be reviewed to see if there was enough evidence to charge.