Crown lawyer describes Terrorism Act as "draconian"
The Appeal Court hearing into the conviction and sentencing of Mohammed Atif Siddique finished yesterday, Thursday 3 July. The hearing, which began on Tuesday, was held in front of Lord Osborne (chair), Lord Reed and Lord Clarke. The judges will give their ruling at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh "in due course." It is likely - though this is guesswork - that the ruling will be given some time in August or September.
Mohammed Atif Siddique, 23, from Alva, Clackmannanshire was convicted in September 2007 for "terrorism" offences connected to his use of the internet. He was sentenced to 8 years in jail.
Despite repeated media assertions that Mohammed Atif Siddique was "Scotland's first Islamic terrorist", he was not in fact convicted for "being an Islamic terrorist." The main offence for which he was convicted was the possession of computer files, downloaded from the web, representing documents, videos and images that, in a variety of different ways, related to terrorism. It is not, in itself, automatically illegal to possess this sort of material. But it is an offence under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for a person to possess "an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism." It is a defence under this legislation to prove that possession was not for that purpose. Under Section 118 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the court is bound is consider this defence, once raised, to be proven unless it is disproved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
At this week's Appeal hearing, Donald Findlay QC, for Mohammed Atif Siddique, and Derek Ogg QC, for the Crown both described Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 as "draconian." Derek Ogg QC also described it as "controversial" and "unusual."
Donald Findlay argued, and Derek Ogg QC accepted, that Lord Carloway, the judge at Siddique's trial in 2007, had erred in the way he explained Section 57 to the jury by failing to explain that an offence could have been committed under Section 57 even if possession of the computer files only gave rise to "reasonable suspicion." Derek Ogg argued that the error was in fact favourable to the accused and would not have affected the jury's decision. But Donald Findlay said that the trial judge's error introduced an "element of confusion" and that the Appeal Court could not know what impact this would have had on the jury. What no one in court said - but all should have realised - was that Lord Carloway's error had the effect of concealing from the jury the draconian character of the legislation under which they were being invited to convict Atif Siddique.
Derek Ogg argued on behalf of the Crown that it is in general unnecessary for the Crown to establish that an accused has in mind a particular act of terrorism as the purpose of his possession of suspicious articles in order for an offence to be proven under Section 57. Donald Findlay drew attention to the difficulties that this interpretation created in deciding whether there were reasonable grounds to suspect that an act of terrorism was the purpose for which an accused possessed particular articles.
Donald Findlay also argued that in a number of other important respects Lord Carloway had erred by not giving the jury satisfactory directions to help them relate the complex and varied evidence before them to the specific provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000. And he said that Lord Carloway, by asking the jury to consider whether a young Muslim would research the documents accessed by Atif Siddique out of curiosity, had cast doubt on the obligation created under Section 118 of the Terrorism Act that any explanations given by the accused should be considered proven unless disproved. No one in court pointed out - but all should have realised - the risk that Lord Carloway's comment might suggest that racist and Islamophobic assumptions could legitimately enter into the jury's deliberations.
Mohammed Atif Siddique's solicitor, Aamer Anwar, was cleared last year of contempt of court charges brought after he said, on the steps of the High Court in Glasgow in September 2007, that Atif Siddique "was found guilty of doing what millions of young people do every day, looking for answers on the internet" and that the verdict was a "tragedy for justice and for freedom of speech."
This week's Appeal Court hearing follows Appeal Court and Law Lords rulings south of the border that have begun to insist upon the rule of law in terrorism cases. The rulings represent important steps towards requiring that courts apply a sound process of reasoning to the wording of the Terrorism Act 2000. They make it harder for prosecutors to seek convictions by heaping further confusion upon the confusion already created by this draconian legislation. SACC contunues to call for the repeal of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the rest of Britain's "anti-terrorism" legislation.
Mohammed Atif Siddique is innocent!
SACC sends its best wishes to Atif and to the Siddique family.
About the Appeal process in Scotland
The highest court of appeal for criminal cases in England and Wales is the House of Lords. In Scotland the situation is different. For criminal cases, the High Court of Justiciary, sitting as a court of appeal, is the supreme court in Scotland - no further appeal may be made to the House of Lords. However, issues relating to devolution can be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Such issues include cases involving the Human Rights Act.
- Statement issued by Aamer Anwar after the conviction of Mohammed Atif Siddique, September 2007