Judicial Sour Grapes?

Editorial in The Scotsman, 2 July 2008

Last September, Aamer Anwar, a Scottish solicitor, made a fiery public statement on the steps of the High Court in Glasgow. His client, Mohammed Atif Siddique, had just been convicted of terrorism offences. Mr Anwar believed his client was innocent and that the court had been unduly influenced by the publicity surrounding the attack on Glasgow Airport. For expressing these views in public, Mr Anwar was charged with contempt of court - the first such case of its kind in the UK.

Mr Anwar has long been a thorn in the side of the Scottish legal establishment and often his utterances are in the extreme. But that is no cause to try and gag him. It is a fundamental principle of both democracy and justice that court hearings which are held in public can be fully and freely commented upon.

Yesterday, the High Court in Edinburgh rightly cleared Mr Anwar of contempt. However, the judges were not content to vindicate Mr Anwar's right to free speech. Instead, they criticised him for making "angry and petulant" comments and that they "expected better" of solicitors.

Just as Mr Anwar has a right to free speech, so to do judges, even when speaking from the Queen's bench. However, these judicial comments sound very much like sour grapes. The whole point about free speech is that we accord it to those we most disagree with.