SACC stands by solicitor smeared by Scottish Daily Mail

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Monday 22 August 2005

The Scottish Daily Mail's attack last Thursday on solicitor Mudassar Arani and on an advice leaflet circulated by SACC is a disgrace.

Last Thursday (18 August), the Scottish Daily Mail published a disgraceful article headlined "Bomb lawyer's £1m bonanza" highlighting legal aid payments to London solicitor Mudassar Arani. Miss Arani is a courageous and principled lawyer who stands in the front line of the struggle to defend civil liberties in this country. There have been repeated attempts to demonise her in recent years . These smear campaigns are a threat to the most basic principles of British justice. The same article presented a "Know Your Rights" leaflet published by Arani & Co Solicitors and the Islamic Human Rights Commission in terms that seem calculated to leave an impression that the the leaflet is irresponsible. Our campaign distributes this leaflet in Scotland alongside our own publications because we believe it gives sound advice. We stand by every point in the leaflet.

The article in the Scottish Daily Mail states that Miss Arani recieved £885,674 in legal aid between 2000 and April this year. This is not in dispute. The article doesn't point out that the figure is a gross payment for all stages of the cases including payments made to Arani & Co for discharging Counsels fees, interpreters costs, expert reports and medical reports. Nor does it point out Arani & Co. work in various fields and the majority of their legal services income comes from work other than terrorist cases including divorce cases, domestic violence and child care proceedings.

But even this is not really the point. It's hard to imagine the affairs of other lawyers being reported in the same way. Apparently different rules apply to Muslim lawyers who represent Muslim defendants. There's a name for this sort of difference. It's called racism and bigotry.

If the Scottish Daily Mail felt any doubt about the likely effect of its article, it needed only to consider the events that followed the publication of a similar article in the London Evening Standard on 11 August, when Arani & Co received death threats, abusive calls and even threats to bomb their offices.

The "Know Your Rights" leaflet published by Arani & Co Solicitors and the Islamic Human Rights Commission gives excellent advice and we would be surprised to hear that any lawyer makes substantially different recommendations. It places particular emphasis on harassment of Muslims, but is of much wider value than that. The introduction to the leaflet says that it addresses "concerns over the harassment of Muslims and those identified as anti-establishment by security services in the UK." We have found that non-Muslims as well as Muslims are keen to pick the leaflet up. The leaflet says that it aims to "assist those who are targeted in making informed choices and resisting undue pressure brought to bear." For all these reasons our campaign - which has no collective view on religious matters and is supported by people of various faiths and of no faith - has found the leaflet to be a valuable resource.

Three points in the leaflet have been picked out for comment by the Scottish Daily Mail:

"What to do if you are contacted by MI5
  • There is no obligation under the law for you to answer any questions that MI5 officers put to you
What to do when contacted by special branch also known as anti-terrorist branch
  • Do not be misled by officers who state that thay need you to assist them
  • Do not talk to them regarding any matter
  • "

In addition to these points, the leaflet advises people contacted by MI5 or anti-terrorist police to obtain the names and telephone numbers of the officers concerned, to seek legal advice, and to inform the officers concerned that they would be doing so.

This is hardly controversial. The Criminal Law Solicitors Association gives the following advice on the right to silence:

"You should not say anything to the police officers whatsoever; not sign the police officer's notebook; request that you be provided with free and independent legal advice."

The Scottish Daily Mail says that this advice "runs counter to the urgings of most Islamic clerics and the main Muslim umbrella group, the Muslim Council of Britain, who say Muslims must help the police detect terrorists."

We see no contradiction. We insist that in all circumstances people must be informed of their legal rights. We take it for granted that decent people hope that there will be no more mass killings in this country and that they would inform the police - with advice from their lawyer if appropriate - if they had information about such a crime. But we do not support attempts by the police and security forces to create a snoopers' culture.

We have already experienced this kind of thing in Scotland. A number of Algerian men were arrested on terrorism charges here in the winter of 2002/2003. There was no real evidence against the men and the charges were subsequently dropped. But during the police investigation a large number of people experienced police attempts to pressurise them into acting as informers. This sort of manipulation creates junk intelligence that puts innocent people in the dock. It promotes fear and suspicion. It divides communities. It makes it hard for police officers to command the respect and trust they need if they are to put an end to the current wave of racist attacks and harassment. And the atmosphere it seeks to create is exactly the kind of atmosphere that terrorists need. We find it very odd that the government and sections of the media promote such policies, yet say that peace campaigners are "playing into the hands of the terrorists."

The Scottish Daily Mail piece on Miss Arani was embedded in a generally balanced article by David Williams and Stephen Wright about the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting. It's hard to imagine a set of circumstances that could provide a better illustration of the dangers of junk intelligence. We're at a loss to understand why the dangerous and manipulative "information" box about Miss Arani was included on the same page. At best, it is irresponsible reporting. At worst, it looks like a cynical attempt to frighten Muslims away from accessing basic legal advice; advice that is routinely and uncontroversially made available to non-Muslims.

Richard Haley (spokesperson for SACC)

Background

  1. Press Release from Arani and Co Solicitors (12 August 2005)
  2. More about the Islamic Human Rights Commission : visitwww.ihrc.org.uk
  3. The "Know Your Rights" leaflet referred to here can be downloaded from the IHRC website or from the link below Know Your Rights. Printed copies are available from SACC on request. The leaflet was first published in March 2002 but remains relevant today.
  4. There have been previous attempts to victimise Miss Arani and obstruct her work. She was a victim of a smear campaign in the Sun in 2004 and in August 2004 she filed a formal complaint against officers in Paddington Green Police station, London, whom she alleged treated her in a racist and Islamophobic manner (The Guardian, 19 August 2004). She alleged that officers gave her clients business cards of another firm, even after her clients had expressed satisfaction with her representatation of them, and that anti-terrorism officers told here that they were searching her clients because they had "so many consultations" with her.