Anwar judgement welcomed

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Tuesday 1 July 2008

SACC welcomes the judgement given by three judges at Edinburgh High Court today that human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar did not commit contempt of court in statements he made last September following the conviction for "terrorism" of his client Mohammed Atif Siddique.

Nothing contained in the judgment, and nothing said when the case was discussed in court on 29 April, suggests that there was ever any serious basis for supposing that Aamer Anwar's statements constituted contempt of court. It is deeply worrying that Lord Carloway - the judge in the Siddique case - should have chosen to initiate these unprecedented legal proceedings on such flimsy grounds.

Lord Carloway seems, at best, to have been misusing the law of contempt to create an opportunity for the court to express its views on Aamer Anwar's statements. At worst, his actions look like a politically motivated attempt to silence a courageous lawyer.

We are disappointed that, while rejecting the contempt of court allegations, the court today used the opportunity to comment critically on Aamer Anwar's statements. SACC fully supports the statements that Aamer Anwar made last September on the steps of Glasgow High Court, in the media, and in his press release.

The judges today described these statements as "angry and petulant." It would surprise no one if the guilty verdict in the Siddique case - which came as a surprise to many who had followed the case - left Aamer Anwar and his client feeling angry. But the only petulance that anyone has shown in this protracted saga came from Lord Carloway, who chose to use the might of the contempt of court law to hit back at statements that he happened not to like.

The judges also referred, apparently in criticism, to "a range of political comments concerning the position of Muslims in our society" included in Aamer Anwar's statement. It is surely beyond dispute that this is an issue of critical importance for our society, that it was essential background to the Siddique case, and that it played a key role in the jury's interpretation of the actions of Mohammed Atif Siddique. We think it bodes ill for the future of Scottish justice that the judges should treat this matter in such a dismissive way.

We believe that the right of lawyers to speak in the sort of terms used by Aamer Anwar is an essential protection both for individuals who find themselves accused of crime and for society at large.

In the Siddique case, the interpretations that the police and the security services placed upon the guilty verdict were reported immediately and widely by the press. Lord Carloway's own interpretations, issued at the later sentencing hearing, were reported just as widely. Since then, much of the public discussion of anti-terrorism policy has included references to Mohammed Atif Siddique's supposed acts of terrorism. In these circumstances, it is of vital public interest that people should be told of alternative interpretations of the case.

Lawyers south of the border have long been in the habit for making forceful statements outside the court. We hope their more timorous cousins in Scotland will be encouraged by the outcome of this case to do the same, despite the huffing and puffing of the judges over the content of Aamer Anwar's statements. And we hope that this is a trend that the Law Society of Scotland will support.

We wish Mohammed Atif Siddique well in his appeal against his conviction

Notes

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In February 2010 the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh quashed Mohammed Atif Siddique's conviction under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000,and allowed him to walk from the court a free man. Mohammed Atif Siddique isn't a terrorist and he should never have been charged with terrorism.

Aamar Anwar revealed after the appeal court hearing that the Law Society of Scotland had decided to take no action against him following aninvestigation triggered by critical comments made by the High Court at the same time as it cleared Anwar of contempt of court charges broughtas a result of statements he made after Siddique's conviction in September 2007. The Law Society decision was taken on 28 May 2009, but Aamer Anwarwas unable to release the information at that time as proceedings were still live against Mohammed Atif Siddique.

In October 2010 SACC published its response to the Government's review ofcounter-terrorism powers. SACC is calling for repeal of Section 57 and the closely related Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Police haveused threats of prosecution under Section 58 to prevent people from taking photographs in public places. Section 57 could be used the same way.Both sections are far too widely drawn and can lead to the criminalisation of legitimate activity.The use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography is one of the the issues that the Government has asked the review to look at.