A very interesting story discussed by Manfred Gabriel (Law & Society Blog):
This week in Ireland, five peace protesters were aquitted by jury verdict of the charge of criminal damage to property. In 2003, the protesters forced their way into an airplane hanger at Shannon airport and attacked a US Airforce transport plane, bashing the airplane's nose and causing $2.5 million of damage.
The Dublin Criminal Circuit Court ruled July 25 that the five ... were not guilty of causing damage to U.S. government property and the Aer Rianta doors at the airport. The five admitted in the court that they had forced their way into the hangar and had attacked the plane, but said their actions were legally excusable because they were trying to protect lives and property in Iraq, which the U.S. invaded the following month....
The post makes lots of interesting points, but here's one that particularly struck me:
The Irish statute declares criminal damage that was reasonably believed to be necessary to prevent harm to be lawful, which means, for example, that self-defense would not be permissible against the act. Consider that the airplane's pilot had tried to defend his airplane against the attacking peace protesters and that the pilot had injured one of the protesters while trying to ward them off. If the protesters' reasonable beliefs made their act lawful, the pilot would be prevented from stopping the attack by force and could be prosecuted for assault and battery if he tried: self-defense is a right only against unlawful attacks.
I should say that the Irish government would of course be entirely free to refuse to let us use their airfields. (I assume they have no treaty obligations to us on this point, but even if they did, I suspect they could renounce those obligations in various ways.) But one unfortunate aspect of the necessity defense is that the Irish government lets us use their airfields and then does not protect us when we do so. Not a good position for Irish law (which is what lets this defense go to the jury) to place the Irish government and the Irish nation.
Incidentally, many U.S. jurisdictions recognize the necessity defense in some cases, but as I understand it the defense has been interpreted quite narrowly. I doubt, for instance, that the defense would have allowed Americans to destroy British warplanes if those warplanes were bound for the Falklands War, and the defendants had thought the war improper or illegal.
UPDATE: Note that this wasn't an incident of jury nullification, in which applying the law as the judge accurately described it would lead to result X, but the jury reached result Y becauuse it chose to ignore the law. Irish law seems to be that the necessity defense actually provides a valid legally sanctioned justification that a jury can (and perhaps should) apply to acquit the defendants. The jury wasn't nullifying the law; it was applying the law.
If you want an analogy, when a judge instruct jurors that vandalizing an abortion clinic in order to stop abortions from being performed is a crime, the vandalism is proven, but the jury still acquits because it thinks that abortion is so evil that the vandals were morally justified, that's jury nullification. If a judge instructed jurors that the vandalism is not a crime if the defendants sincerely believed that fetuses were persons who were in immediate need of protection, and that the vandalism was a reasonable means of protection under the circumstances, and the jury then acquitted on those very grounds, that's not jury nullification -- it's a jury's application of the law that lets people destroy property under the specified circumstances.