Law Society of Scotland urged to act over "misuse" of contempt law in Anwar case

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Thursday 3 July 2008

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) today wrote to the Law Society of Scotland urging it to consider taking action over what SACC says was a "misuse" of the law of contempt in the Aamer Anwar case.

SACC says in the letter:

"The terms of the Opinion of the Court suggest to us that the statements made by Aamer Anwar (and complained of by Lord Carloway) fell so far short of amounting to contempt that there could never have been any realistic prospect that he would be held to be in contempt."

SACC adds:

"It is hard to accept that Lord Carloway would have been unaware that the proceedings against Aamer Anwar had no realistic chance of success. It seems that he must have brought the proceedings with the idea that they would, while having no chance of success, provide an opportunity for the court to comment on Aamer Anwar's statements...

"We think that this is a serious misuse of the law of contempt. And we think that the Law Society of Scotland may wish to indicate that it considers this an inappropriate way for a judge to raise concerns over the conduct of a solicitor."

Background

The contempt of court allegations against Aamer Anwar were initiated last October by Lord Carloway, the judge in the trial of Mohammed Atif Siddique, who was convicted in September 2007 of terrorism offences. The case was heard by Lordships Osbourne, Kingarth, and Wheatley at the High Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh on 29 April. Their decision was given on 1 July.

The Law Society of Scotland is the governing body for Scottish solicitors. It promotes the interests of the solicitors' profession in Scotland and the interests of the public in relation to the profession. According to a statement issued by the Society on the day of the High Court ruling:

"The Society notes the High Court Decision today, Tuesday, July 1,that there has been no contempt of court committed by Aamer Anwar. The Society also noted that the Court has not made a complaint to the Society about Aamer Anwar's conduct, which it is entitled to do. The Society will now consider the Opinion of the Court in this case in detail and take any appropriate action."

Letter from SACC to the Law Society of Scotland (full text)

To Richard Henderson, President, Law Society of Scotland
cc Philip Yelland, Director of Regulation Law, Society of Scotland

Dear Mr Henderson,

I am writing on behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) to raise with you some aspects of the contempt of court case involving Aamer Anwar.

SACC works in association with the communities most affected by the terrorism laws. This necessarily means, on occasion, working with individuals charged with offences under these laws and with their families. We also campaign for the repeal of the terrorism laws and monitor their use.

Developments that could affect the way that solicitors represent people charged under terrorism (or any other) laws, or that could affect their freedom to comment on shortcomings in the law, are therefore of great concern to us.

SACC welcomes the decision by the High Court on 1 July that no contempt of court has been committed by Aamer Anwar. The terms of the Opinion of the Court suggest to us that the statements made by Aamer Anwar (and complained of by Lord Carloway) fell so far short of amounting to contempt that there could never have been any realistic prospect that he would be held to be in contempt. This is supported by our impression that, when the case was heard on 29 April, no arguments were advanced that appeared to give serious support to the view that Aamer Anwar had been in contempt of court.

We find it troubling that the case was brought by Lord Carloway in these circumstances. It is hard to accept that Lord Carloway would have been unaware that the proceedings against Aamer Anwar had no realistic chance of success. It seems that he must have brought the proceedings with the idea that they would, while having no chance of success, provide an opportunity for the court to comment on Aamer Anwar's statements.

SACC supports the statements made by Aamer Anwar after the conviction of Mohammed Atif Siddique last September. We think they were, at the very least, defensible interpretations of the facts and arguments that emerged during the trial of Mohammed Atif Siddique.

When the contempt case was heard on 29 April there was very little discussion of the objective accuracy of Aamer Anwar's statements, although counsel for Aamer Anwar did draw attention to the appeal lodged on behalf of Mohammed Atif Siddique, whose grounds included a number of the issues alluded to in the statements.

In these circumstances, we were surprised that the Opinion of the Court included extensive and trenchant criticism of Aamer Anwar's statements. However, we broadly share the view of the Scotsman Editorial writer, who wrote on 2 July:

"Just as Mr Anwar has a right to free speech, so to do judges, even when speaking from the Queen's bench. However, these judicial comments sound very much like sour grapes."

While acknowledging the freedom of judges to indulge themselves in this way when given the opportunity, we nevertheless remain seriously concerned that Lord Carloway chose to initiate contempt of court proceedings with no discernible purpose other than to create a platform for the expression of judicial sour grapes.

We think that this is a serious misuse of the law of contempt. And we think that the Law Society of Scotland may wish to indicate that it considers this an inappropriate way for a judge to raise concerns over the conduct of a solicitor.

ENDS