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I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly
The text below is the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. You can download an official copy of the judgment here, but some may find it more convenient to read it on the web. Please note that some of the formatting (italics, spacing possibly some Arabic / Urdu script and especially some line breaks) has not been reproduced correctly, for which I apologise.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF PAKISTAN
(APPELLATE JURISDICTION) PRESENT: MR. JUSTICE MIAN SAQIB NISAR, HCJ
MR. JUSTICE ASIF SAEED KHAN KHOSA
MR. JUSTICE MAZHAR ALAM KHAN MIANKHEL CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.39-L OF 2015 (Against the judgment dated 16.10.2014 of
the Lahore High Court, Lahore passed in
Crl.A.No.2509/2010 and M.R.No.614/2010) Mst. Asia Bibi
…Appellant(s) VERSUS The State etc.
For the appellant(s):
For the State:
For the complainant:
Date of hearing:
Mr. Saif-ul-Malook, ASC
Mr. Zubair Ahmed Farooq, Addl.P.G.
Mr. Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, ASC
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.
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”
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.