Contempt trial will put Scottish Justice to the test

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Monday 28 April 2008

Contempt trial will put Scottish Justice to the test
Case will make legal history

The trial of human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar for contempt of court at the High Court in Edinburgh tomorrow will make legal history in at least two ways.

It's the first time that charges of this sort have been brought against a lawyer in the UK. And for the first time in a Scottish court, an attempt to file a "third-party intervention" will be made. Lawyers for human rights group Liberty will argue that they should be allowed to speak in support of Anwar during the hearing. Their intervention - if they are allowed to make it - is likely focus on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to freedom of expression.

"Third-party interventions" have previously been made in cases of major public interest in England, but have never been attempted in a Scottish court.

The contempt of court proceedings against Aamer Anwar follow statements that he made after one of his clients - Mohammed Atif Siddique - was convicted for "terrorism" offences last year. The proceedings were initiated Lord Carloway, the judge in the Siddique case. Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, the Stop the War Coalition and others have argued from the outset that the case doesn't just threaten the ability of lawyers to effectively represent their clients, but that it threatens freedom of speech itself.

The country's Muslim community is sure to be following the case closely. Muslims already feel over-policed and under siege. Muslims who are critical of the British government's policies in the Middle East or it's treatment of Muslims in the UK are increasingly apt to be vilified or even prosecuted for "extremism." If Aamer Anwar is convicted, many ordinary Muslims will fear that their own chances of being allowed to speak their minds are slim indeed.

In a survey published at the end of last year, human rights group Privacy International gave Scotland a higher ranking for civil liberties than England and Wales. That always looked a generous assessment, based more on warm feelings than on substantive issues. SNP Westminster Home Affairs Spokesperson, Pete Wishart MP, nevertheless welcomed the report, saying "this report highlights how people's civil liberties are safer in Scotland."

We'll find out this week whether there is any truth to the rumour that civil liberties are safer in Scotland.

Six MSPs have given public support to Aamer Anwar, saying

"we are deeply concerned that Aamer Anwar is facing contempt of court. Conviction would set a dangerous precedent, threatening the ability of lawyers to speak out against perceptions of injustice in the interests of their clients. The Scottish judicial system is, and should be, robust enough to tolerate and absorb such criticism"

No one should believe that a robust justice system can be maintained by silence and magic. It needs effort from the whole of civil society and it needs Parliamentarians who are willing to speak up, as those six MSPs have done.

Anyone who feels complacent on that score should reflect on the outcome of the Lockerbie trial. Nelson Mandela used his enormous prestige to make it possible for two Libyans suspected of involvement in the bombing to be brought to "Scottish justice" in the Netherlands. Few people are now comfortable with the conviction of Al Megrahi for mass murder by three Scottish judges. Scottish justice found itself for a while at the centre of the international stage. All it achieved was to heap embarrassment on the head of Nelson Mandela. Let's hope it can do better this time.

SACC and the Stop the War Coalition are urging people to gather outside the High Court in Edinburgh's Lawnmarket from 9.30am on Tuesday to show their support for Aamer Anwar.

We agree with Kenny Ross, of the Fire Brigades Union, Scotland, that

"it is vital for the sake of us all who cherish our freedoms that the case against Aamer Anwar is not only defeated but crushed."

Notes for Editors

  • The six MSPs who issued the statement in support of Aamer Anwar are: Alex Neil SNP, Jamie Hepburn SNP, Ian Mckee SNP, Margo Mcdonald Independent, Christine Grahame SNP, Sandra White SNP, and Elaine Smith Labour Party. Their names were amongst those published in an advertisement placed in yesterday's Sunday Herald by the Defend Aamer Anwar Campaign
  • Read the statement that Aamer Anwar issued after the conviction of Mohammed Atif Siddique can be read at
  • Read advertisement published in the Sunday Herald (pdf)
  • Privacy International report (December 2007)