The ECtHR has not created a European blasphemy law but it has produced a lamentable judgment

The decision of the Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of E.S. v. Austria has been welcomed by Islamists in Pakistan and condemned by secularists in Europe. It has also been misunderstood. Some of those who have condemned the refusal of the Court to denounce Austria’s domestic criminal law are those who on other occasions would denounce it for interfering in the sovereignty of an independent country.

In strict legal terms all that the Court has done is to rule that an Austrian law making it a crime – in some circumstances – to “disparage” religion, is not incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

It has not established a Europe-wide blasphemy law. It has not ruled that criticising or insulting Muhammad is a crime. It has not ruled that it is criminal to be rude about the Muslim faith. It has not ruled that Islam is entitled to legal protection denied to other religions.

Nor is it necessarily the last word in the case. There is still some prospect that it will be heard by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR which could reverse the decision.

But for all that, it is a dreadful judgment, not least because it has immediately and predictably been hailed by Muslim religious fanatics as support for their demand to hang the the 47 year old Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi for supposedly insulting Muhammad. Worse still, it does so at a time when the Pakistan Supreme Court has reserved judgment and is considering whether to uphold her conviction and death sentence.

Asia Bibi: awaiting final judgment on blasphemy appeal

Continue reading “The ECtHR has not created a European blasphemy law but it has produced a lamentable judgment”

Asia Bibi’s life is in the hands of the Pakistan Supreme Court

The Pakistan Supreme Court will shortly rule on whether 47 year old Asia Bibi must hang for blasphemy. If she loses her appeal, she is likely to become the first person to be executed under Pakistan’s extraordinarily harsh blasphemy laws.

To read the judgments of the Pakistan courts is, for an English lawyer, to enter a world which seems strangely familiar and yet utterly alien.

The language of the judges bears a close relationship to the language of the English courts: there are “Honourable Judges” (though usually abbreviated to “Hon’ble”) the senior judges are called “Mr (or very rarely “Mrs” or “Miss”) Justice,” all counsel are “learned” and many of the laws enforced still date from the days of the British Empire. The Penal Code, for example, still contains reference to [the admittedly repealed] Section 58, with its Dickensian “Offenders sentenced to transportation, how dealt with until transported,” and Section 56 which deals with “Sentence of Europeans and Americans to penal servitude” (in the days of the Raj, European prisoners were accommodated in a special “European only” prison, or repatriated to serve their sentences in a cooler climate). Still very much in force, however, is a death penalty, carried out just as the British liked it, with an old fashioned noose, gallows and long drop. Continue reading “Asia Bibi’s life is in the hands of the Pakistan Supreme Court”

Huge pay rises for judges may stave off disaster, but where will the judges come from in 10 years time?

The Top Salaries Review Body has announced that judges should receive a stonking pay rise. High Court judges – who sit near the pinnacle of the profession – should get an extra 32%, which works out at about another £60,000 per year, while middle-ranking, Circuit judges, who sit in most Crown and County Courts should get a smaller but still very helpful 22%, taking their salaries to a basic £165,000.

Some years ago Barristerblogger decided that he had slogged around the criminal courts long enough. He had imbibed enough of the elixir of wisdom that comes from prosecuting burglars in Bournemouth, mitigating the transgressions of sex mini-beasts in Swindon, and eating army packed-lunches in military courts from Bulford to Bielefeld. More to the point, with no pension provision beyond a mis-sold critical illness policy that would, at best, pay for 2 weeks off work if I was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the time had come to rise above the blood and dust of the arena, to don a purple robe and to accept elevation to the judicial bench. Continue reading “Huge pay rises for judges may stave off disaster, but where will the judges come from in 10 years time?”

Freddie Pargetter got off lightly. He has no reasonable prospects of appealing his 12 month sentence

Regina v. Frederick Pargetter

ADVICE ON

APPEAL AGAINST SENTENCE

  1. I have been asked to advise Mr Pargetter on his prospects of successfully appealing against a 12 month sentence of detention in a young offenders’ institution, imposed by Her Honour Judge Langford at the Borsetshire Crown Court on 28th September 2018.

The Facts

  1. Unfortunately those instructing have neither invited me onto the digital case system nor supplied me with a full set of prosecution papers, and I have seen only a short extract from HHJ Langford’s sentencing remarks. Nor, despite my repeated requests, have they supplied me with a copy of the pre-sentence report. I do not even know whether his plea was entered on any particular agreed basis. I understand the pressures that many rural solicitors are under, but this is a disappointing level of service from a once well-respected Ambridge firm which perhaps ought to reconsider its commitment to criminal work if it cannot provide a proper service. Nevertheless, piecing together the information that I do have as best I can, the position seems to be as set out below.

  2. In August of this year Mr Pargetter was arrested at a “stag” party on suspicion of possessing about 25 tablets of drugs with intent to supply. Those instructing have been characteristically vague about what drugs these were, although it may not in fact be of huge significance given that they were unquestionably Class A. For the purposes of this advice I shall assume that they were methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA or, more colloquially, “ecstasy”. Further investigation revealed that Mr Pargetter had been supplying a number of users for financial gain over the course of several months. It is unclear whether he faced charges in relation to past supply or merely a single count of possession with intent to supply.

  3. When questioned by the police Mr Pargetter at first claimed that the drugs were for his personal use, but he appears to have accepted at an early stage that he did in fact intend to supply them, and that he had been doing so, for financial gain, for several months.

  4. There does not appear to have been any investigation made of his benefit under the Proceeds of Crime Act. He should count himself fortunate in that respect, at least.

Continue reading “Freddie Pargetter got off lightly. He has no reasonable prospects of appealing his 12 month sentence”

The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness

An unusual trial took place in Swansea last week. Forty-eight year old David Hampson was convicted of breaching a criminal behaviour order and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment. Mr Hampson’s peculiar modus operandi is to stand in the middle of a busy Swansea street and stop the traffic. It is annoying but not terribly serious behaviour. But he has been doing it since 2014. For his first offence he was given a conditional discharge, a magisterial slap on the wrist. He immediately re-offended again, and then again, and in due course was convicted in the Crown Court of the more serious offence of public nuisance. In an attempt to stop him once and for all, he was imprisoned and made the subject of a criminal behaviour order. This meant that if he obstructed traffic again he would face a possible maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. It made not the slightest difference. As soon as he was released he proceeded to stop the traffic again, “draping himself over a Royal Mail van with his arms outstretched and his face pressed up against the windscreen.” Continue reading “The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness”

Prosecuting Boris Johnson over “Brexit lies” would be an ill-conceived publicity stunt

A 28 year old Norfolk man called Marcus J Ball is trying to bring a crowd-funded private prosecution against Boris Johnson. He says that Mr Johnson lied while campaigning for the Leave campaign in the Referendum. Since he was at the time an MP (and until 9th May 2016 also Mayor of London) he was the holder of a public office. Mr Ball believes that lies told in the campaign mean that he has committed the offence of “misconduct in public office,” a serious criminal offence carrying an unlimited fine and potentially life imprisonment.

Ball: Private Prosecutor

Continue reading “Prosecuting Boris Johnson over “Brexit lies” would be an ill-conceived publicity stunt”

How can Mr Loophole defend David Beckham when he knows he is guilty?

David Beckham has been charged with speeding. According to his lawyer, Nick Freeman, who styles himself “Mr Loophole,” there is no dispute that he was driving a Bentley at 59 MPH on the Paddington flyover in west London, and that the relevant speed limit was 40 MPH. Beckham’s defence is the highly technical one that a Notice of Intended Prosecution (a legal requirement for a successful conviction) was served outside the 14 day period that the law requires. Continue reading “How can Mr Loophole defend David Beckham when he knows he is guilty?”

The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures

Last May the journalist and author Bob Woffinden died of mesothelioma. He will be remembered as a formidable campaigner against miscarriages of justice.

While judge after judge rejected the legal attempts of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 to obtain justice – per Lord Denning MR“appalling vista …;” per Lord Lane LCJ “the longer this case has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct ….” – Woffinden and other journalists such as Ludovic Kennedy and Paul Foot, (and of course lawyers like Gareth Pierce, too) doggedly chipped away, until eventually the cases were revealed for what he had believed them to be from an early stage; grotesque miscarriages of justice, brought about by a combination of systemic disclosure failures, bungling by expert witnesses, police malpractice, prejudiced jurors and judicial complacency. His 1987 book on the cases, Miscarriages of Justice, remains a classic.

In his final 2016 book, The Nicholas Cases, Woffinden turned his attention to more contemporary possible miscarriages of justice. One of these was the 2001 conviction of Jonathan King on charges of historic abuse of boys. He made a compelling case that the original trial had been unfair and produced evidence that suggested King had a strong alibi for one of the offences – he was in America at the time, as attested by several witnesses and documents discovered after the trial. Another of Woffinden’s revelations was that the main complainant in the case against King had, reportedly, after the trial, admitted lying against King for money: he had also apparently sold his story for £45,000 to one newspaper and £5,000 to another.

There was, in fact, a second trial, but that ended in King’s acquittal on all charges. Continue reading “The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures”

Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein

Danny Finkelstein – or Baron Finkelstein of Pinner to give him the title he hardly ever uses – has become the latest person to be the object of a twitter hate campaign.

He is, according to Abi Wilkinson, a Corbyn-supporting journalist, “a racist scumbag” who is “chill with ethnic cleansing.”

It may seem surprising that Finkelstein, former member of the SDP and since that party’s demise a leading voice of “moderate” Conservatism, should be so characterised, even by Wilkinson who believes that “incivility isn’t merely justifiable, but actively necessary.”

His columns in The Times are typically reflective, considered and measured. This has not prevented him sometimes receiving the most appalling online abuse, accusing him of defending paedophilia, for example, because he expressed scepticism about groundless allegations levelled at politicians. Continue reading “Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein”

A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal

Barristerblogger had a day in Town on Wednesday; coinciding with both the Cliff Richard judgment and the Tommy Robinson appeal.

A New Attorney-General

While the Cliff Richard judgment was being delivered, a little down the corridor in the Lord Chief Justice’s court a new Attorney-General was being sworn-in before a bench full of colourfully be-robed (and in the LCJ’s case be-chained) judges in their splendidly absurd full-bottomed wigs. Down in counsels’ row the new Attorney-General too was full-bottomed. Someone in the court clerk’s usual seat even had an extraordinary black tricorn contraption which she seemed to have some difficulty balancing on her own full-bottom wig – I have since learnt that she was the Queen’s Remembrancer.

Who, though, was that nice but ordinary-looking man squeezed in at the end of the judges’ bench? Nobody seemed to know, but eventually it turned out he was David Gauke, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He had acquired a yellow and black robe from somewhere, but no wig, so amongst all the bigwigs he looked like a man in a lounge suit at a white tie dinner. He gave a short but sensible speech, leavened with the sort of bland humour that is expected on these occasions.

Pushing and shoving for the best seats

Whilst this solemn ceremony was going on, there was a great deal of polite pushing and shoving in the stalls as members of the public, Barristerblogger included, manoeuvred to grab the better seats in the house. For a time, it was standing room only and as the encomiums to the new Attorney-General continued to flow from the bench, who should slip to the front of the queue, face down in his twitter notifications, but Tommy Robinson’s greatest supporter, PR Svengali and chief fund-raiser, flown over from Canada at Tommy’s special request, none other than Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant. Continue reading “A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal”