Evidence against alleged Census refusers may be inadmissible, says Procurator Fiscal

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
26 January 2012
Revised 30 January 2012 - See Note 2 at the end of this press release

Surprise legal development could undermine census trials throughout the UK

Update 6 Feb 2012: The Advocate General's office says the Akram case has not been referred by the Advocate General to the Supreme Court, and that "we understand that the case has been referred back to the Sheriff at Glasgow so that it might be re-argued."

So it seems the PF was mistaken - and perhaps over-anxious to delay Barbara's case.

The trial of a Glasgow woman accused of failing to fill in her census form properly was adjourned today at the request of the Procurator Fiscal. Barbara Dowling appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court expecting to defend herself against charges that she had committed a criminal offence by failing to fill her census form in properly in protest at the involvement in the census of defence and intelligence contractor CACI. CACI is implicated in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and has so far ducked responsibility by claiming legal immunity as a US government contractor.

The Procurator Fiscal asked for the trial to be adjourned pending the outcome of a case before the UK Supreme Court which could make evidence collected by Register Office staff inadmissible.

The case that derailed the trial began in September 2011 when a Glasgow Sheriff considered whether Mrs Akram, a woman charged with housing benefit and income support fraud, was being denied the right to a fair trial because she didn't have legal representation when interviewed by officers of the Department for Work and Pensions and Glasgow City Council. The defendant, Mrs Akram, lost her case, but the Sheriff's decision stated that legal principles entitling suspects interviewed by police to legal advice also apply to "reporting agencies" such as housing authorities.

The Akram case was today said by the Procurator Fiscal to be pending in the Supreme Court and could affect "reporting agencies" such as Customs and Excise and local councils throughout the UK. It could also affect census cases currently going through the courts in England and Wales.

A census case involving a woman named Mary Reid is due to be heard at Falkirk Sheriff Court on Monday. That case may also have to be adjourned.

SACC is campaigning for all cases connected with the 2011 census to be dropped.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"The census is turning into a legal train-crash as well as an ethical and political one. Former Iraqi prisoners who say they were tortured by CACI staff are still trying, more than 7 years on, to get CACI to answer for its actions in US courts. It's a disgrace that the Crown Office has so far been determined to rush to court with cases against principled ordinary people who have harmed no one. Today's move gives the Crown Office a chance to think again. It should drop all the charges."

Notes for Editors

  1. More about the case PF v Akram at: Cadder extension goes to High Court UK compliance referral to Supreme Court_likely
    and Cadder ii - the sequel
  2. It was incorrectly stated in the original version of this press release that a Glasgow Sheriff had ruled in September 2011 that Mrs Akram's right to a fair trial had been denied as a result of her having been interviewed without a lawyer, and accordingly it was implied (again, incorrectly) that she had been acquitted. Sorry!
  3. Following the adjournment of Barbara Dowling's trial diet on 26 January, a new intermediate diet has been set for 6 May and trial diet for 15 May. The date at which the Akram case will come before the Supreme Court isn't known.
  4. Also see the SACC Press Release of 24 January: Scotland's First Census Prosecution - Drop the charges, says SACC