One of our English contacts — known as “G-Man” when he sends us tips — happens to be a lawyer. After reading about yesterday’s arrest of Guramit Singh, G-Man sent us an outline of a possible defense strategy for the English Defence League spokesman when his case appears in court:
I saw your post about Guramit Singh, and I thought I’d give you a bit of legal analysis as to the chicanery the authorities are trying now.
I assume that the report you’ve received is correct, that Guramit has been charged under “Section 4b Public Order Act, Racial Aggravation”, and that that charge relates to the BBC radio interview.
What this means is that they’re charging him with (a) an offence under S. 4, and that that offence was (b) racially aggravated.
First, the S.4 part of the alleged offence (key words highlighted by me):
4. Fear or provocation of violence. (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he— (a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or (b) distributes or displays to another person any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.
4(a): Is it “threatening, abusive or insulting” to say that Mohammed was a “disgusting figure”? It is not enough simply to say that someone was insulted by it.
Nor is it enough that the words were insulting towards Mohammed — they have to be used “towards another person”. Guramit said in the interview that these were insulting words “towards Mohammed” but that doesn’t mean they were insulting towards another person. E.g. I admire Cromwell, but if you or Dymphna have Irish heritage, you may say he’s a disgusting figure. That wouldn’t be “threatening, abusive or insulting” even if I feel insulted by it, plus it wouldn’t be “used towards” me. And the justness of the statement is relevant to the question of whether it’s insulting.
4(b): This is broadly worded. It includes a situation where (1) you believe that (2) my words are likely to provoke (3) Mike Tyson to punch (4) Britney Spears immediately. Or if a British Muslim is likely to believe that Guramit’s words are likely provoke an EDL guy in Bolton to punch a Muslim neighbour immediately.
The key word is “immediate”, and I don’t think you can reasonably believe that this (pre-recorded?) BBC interview was likely to result in immediate violence.
I think what we’re seeing here is the deliberate twisting of already broadly drafted laws in order to make it impossible to criticise Mohammed. The strategy appears to be to prosecute people that the government feels are unpopular enough for them to be able to ram through a conviction, in order to establish the precedent that criticism of Mohammed is a crime.
Second, the ‘racially or religiously aggravated’ bit. Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 says:
28. Meaning of “[F1racially or religiously aggravated]”. (1) An offence is [F1racially or religiously aggravated] for the purposes of sections 29 to 32 below if— (a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a [F2racial or religious group]; or (b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a [F2racial or religious group] based on their membership of that group.
The prosecution will have to prove that Guramit said what he said about Mohammed because he was, at least in part, motivated by hostility to Muslims rather than Islam. They might be able to use previous statements by him where he has said “Muslims” when he meant “militant Muslims”. But again, it is quite possible to criticise Mohammed while having profound compassion for Muslims, e.g. murdered and mutilated Muslim girls. And I don’t think the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that criticism of Mohammed is impossible without hostility to Muslims.
I think the prosecution will refer to a previous statement of Guramit at a rally where he referred to “the f’ing Muslims”, when what he says he meant to say was “the f’ing militant Muslims”. If so, then this looks like the government taking note of this statement, and waiting to be able to use it so that they can pile on the ‘religious aggravation’ bit of the offence.
So that’s the overall conclusion: governments passing broadly worded legislation, then lying in wait for people who speak out of turn, and further twisting the legislation, in order to make it a crime to condemn Islamic doctrine.
My advice would be:
- Guramit should elect for jury trial.
- He should bring evidence as to the nature of Mohammed, and whether he can reasonably be described as “disgusting”.
- He should say that while his words may have been insulting towards Mohammed, they weren’t insulting towards other people.
- He should argue the public policy need for freedom to debate religious doctrine.
- He should also say that no immediate violence was likely as a result of this radio interview.
- And he should say that it is quite possible for anyone to criticise Mohammed without being motivated by hostility to Muslims, even if that person is in fact hostile to Muslims.
- He should give evidence that he has compassion for Muslims, as the people who suffer first under Islam.
- He should argue that criticism of religious doctrine, however trenchant, is not an appropriate basis for claiming “insult” for the purposes of public order legislation. Otherwise, what qualifies as ‘religion’ and ‘insult’ are defined by the level of political pressure. Does religion include Jedis, Moonies, Scientologists, Druids, Thuggees, Rev Jim Jones, Wiccans and astrologists? If it’s only major religions, does it include different traditions within them? Does “insult” mean that denunciation of religion can only be done in academic language, so that it is OK for academics but not for ordinary people?