PEACE protests at Faslane, like the marches on Drumcree and anti-globalisation demonstrations, should be accepted as the price of living in a democracy, according to the Justice of the Peace who acquitted an MSP after a sit-in at the naval base.

Anthony Stirling, the JP in Tommy Sheridan's case at Argyll and Bute District Court, made the comments in his ''stated case'', which gives details of the evidence led and the reasons behind his decision.

The case took place last month after the Scottish Socialist MSP was one of around 200 people arrested at the Clyde facility in February, but the written details have only now been published.

Days after the case, Mr Sheridan was again arrested during a similar protest at the nuclear submarine base and charged again with breach of peace.

Mr Stirling concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict Mr Sheridan of breach of the peace in the original case.

He said: ''The key issue appears to me to be how far people can protest peacefully in a democratic society. There was no evidence before me of a serious traffic problem caused by the collective protest, or the individual protest of the respondent.

''There was no evidence of alarm being caused to any person and I could not see how any reasonable person would be alarmed by the respondent's conduct. It did not seem to be that his actions crossed the threshold into criminal behaviour.''

Mr Stirling also pointed to European human rights laws which guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which could apply to demonstrations.

He added: ''These demonstrations, CND marches, the poll tax protests in London, a host of protests in Northern Ireland - the most high-profile being at Drumcree - the fuel tax protests at Grangemouth and the May Day protests in London against globalisation, and multi-national capitalism to mention only a few, have all had an element of the obstruction and disruption of traffic and general inconvenience to daily life.

''It appears that this is accepted as the price of living in a democratic society, provided always that the protest is peaceful. Weighing these factors, I did not consider that the respondent's conduct crossed the threshold between peaceful protest and breach of the peace. I therefore found him not guilty.''

The Crown Office has announced its intention to appeal the JP's decision. A spokesman said yesterday that the grounds for that challenge would be lodged within the next three weeks.

Mr Sheridan yesterday welcomed the JP's comments, but criticised remarks attributed to a sheriff at Dumbarton Sheriff Court, who this week described protesters as ''parasites''.

The comments were delivered by Sheriff Ronald Smith after hearing how Harriet Jones, a 20- year-old economics student from London, and Ludwig Appeltans, 31, from Belgium, cut through a security fence at the Coulport armaments base in August.

Sheriff Smith said: ''I look upon you so-called peace protesters as parasites, causing untold damage to fences, disrupting the base and wasting this country's money which could be spent elsewhere.''

The pair, who admitted malicious mischief and breaching by-laws, were each fined (pounds) 200 by the court.

Mr Sheridan has now lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament which condemns the sheriff's ''outrageous'' description of peace protesters.

His motion accused the sheriff of ''political bias, ignorance, and intolerance of legitimate peaceful protest'', claiming that such comments showed he was ''unfit to sit in judgment impartially in any case involving peace protesters, if at all''.

Mr Sheridan said he had asked Jim Wallace, the justice minister, to investigate the matter and ensure the sheriff did not sit in future cases involving Faslane. He cited his own acquittal in the district court case to back up the legitimacy of peaceful protest at the base.

The sheriff could not be contacted last night.

The annual march-by on Drumcree Parish Church in Northern Ireland has led to violence in recent years after Orangemen have been prevented from walking their traditional route through a Catholic area in Portadown.

A group of anti-globalisation activists left a trail of destruction after this year's May Day demonstration in London.