Thursday, 29 May 2008

Even a stopped clock...

The police force that issued a teenager with a court summons for calling Scientology a cult could face a judicial review over the legality of its policing guidelines.

Although prosecutors last week declined to take the 16-year-old to court, freedom of speech campaigners are to ask City of London police to explain how the initial decision to issue the summons was made.

Campaigners said they would call for a judicial review if it is found that the force's guidelines for policing demonstrations led officers to confront the schoolboy.

If it emerges that the policy relates only to anti-Scientology demonstrations, a complaint could be lodged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission instead.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties organisation Liberty, which spearheaded the teenager's defence, said: "We want to know who gave the instruction to issue this summons.

"Curtailing people's freedom of speech is a very serious issue and it's important to know whether this is part of the force's policy or a decision relating specifically to the Church of Scientology. There is the possibility of a complaint to the IPCC or a judicial review."

Chakrabarti said she was concerned the police action could have a "chilling effect" on other protesters who wanted to express their opinions.

"Some people are very easily intimidated and will be put off exercising their right to free speech by the thought that they may face court action over it. We have to defend that right and show how wrong the police were in issuing this summons," she said.

Well, on this occasion, Chakrabarti's right, and it is good that Liberty (indeed, that anyone) is challenging the police's handling of this matter. Although I'm not quite certain of the manner in which Liberty "spearheaded the teenager's defence", other than by the lovely and fragrant Ms Chakrabarti describing the summons as "barmy", and thereby getting herself in the papers.

But, while on this occasion Chakrabarti's organisation is doing the right thing, it's worth pointing out that she seems to take a remarkably selective approach to the question of free speech, and its suppression. After all, in recent years we have seen, inter alia, the leader of the BNP twice prosecuted for calling Islam a "wicked, vicious faith", an anti-Islamic blogger arrested for the content of his postings, a schoolgirl arrested for complaining that fellow pupils did not speak English, an academic forced out of his job for expressing politically incorrect views about the link between race and IQ, and measures passed banning BNP members from certain jobs. Yet on all these issues, and many more, Shami Chakrabarti has, notwithstanding her abundantly evident love of the media spotlight, maintained a strict silence. Maybe she was on holiday when they happened.


Anonymous said...

Good! There are some pretty average people in the police service taking decisions such as these based on their almost brainwashing type 'development' via national police training and Bramshill. In the City police, the 'gene pool' is particularly poor, too many big fish in a very small pond, backed up by very limited practical policing experience - not that such experience seems to make much difference in policing policy today, just look at Sir Ian Blair and the rest of the ACPO mouthpieces.

Radical Westernist said...

Apparently the length of terrorism suspect detention is more important for Shami Chakrabarti. I hope her "pressure group" does not put much pressure on the government.