Contempt of Court or Right toFreedom of Speech


The Scotsman said:
Lawyer faces jail for contempt – but is free speech at stake?

Published Date: 30 April 2008
By Michael Howie

THEY gathered in their dozens outside the court building, holding banners in support of the beleaguered lawyer.

Their message was simple: "Defend Aamer Anwar", "Defend the freedom of speech".

The man in question offered only a wan smile as he walked through the crowd shortly before 10am, his wife by his side.

Anwar's appearance outside the Edinburgh court yesterday was in sharp contrast to a September afternoon last year.

On that occasion, standing on the steps of the High Court in Glasgow, he spoke with barely concealed rage. The controversial solicitor unleashed a stinging verbal attack on Scotland's justice system.

Standing in the full glare nation's media only minutes after his client was convicted of terrorist crimes, he described the verdict a "tragedy for justice" and insisted the prosecution had been "driven by the state".

Aamer Anwar's circumspect appearance outside court yesterday was understandable. This time, he was appearing in the dock, accused of contempt of court as a result of those remarks seven months before.

Lord Carloway, the judge in the terror trial of Mohammed Atif Siddique, described Anwar's statement as a "multi-faceted tirade", and said much of it was untrue or misleading. Referring the case to the panel of three judges that yesterday began trying Anwar for contempt, Lord Carloway said a defence lawyer had "specific duties not only to his client but to the court".

The case is unprecedented in British legal history. It has triggered grave fears among civil-liberty groups that Scotland's judiciary could be about to strike a serious blow against freedom of speech. The case is likely to be ultimately decided in the European courts.

A fierce campaign has also been launched in support of the Glasgow-based lawyer.

High-profile human-rights lawyers, including Michael Mansfield, Gareth Peirce and Imran Khan, have publicly backed Anwar, as have writers, academics, anti-war protesters and politicians.

A full-page advert in a Sunday newspaper branded the trial against Anwar not only a violation of the right to free speech but also "an attack on the fundamental right of all lawyers to represent their clients".

Liberty, the UK civil-liberties group, has taken a keen interest in the case. Yesterday, a representative of the group stood before the three judges hearing the case and argued a guilty verdict would contravene the right to free expression enshrined in European law.

Its director, Shami Chak-rabarti, earlier told The Scotsman: "The ability of a lawyer to protest on behalf of his client is crucial to both free speech and justice in a democracy.

"This case provides a golden opportunity for Scotland to protect the independence of lawyers."

Protester Hugh Kerr yesterday explained why he and about 60 others decided to mount their demonstration.

"We're all here because what Aamer is being tried for today is a threat to the whole of the civil liberties of Scotland," said the Solidarity party member.

But while the roar of support from legal circles in England has been deafening, lawyers in Scotland have been conspicuously quiet.

The Scotsman understands that many were asked to sign a letter of support, but refused. They say talk about a threat to free speech is overblown.

John Scott, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, said: "The problem was (Anwar] was inaccurately reporting what had happened in court.

"His take for the cameras of what the jurors had decided was very misleading.

"Aamer said his client had been convicted of finding answers on the internet. In truth, he was found guilty of very serious offences.

"Trying him for contempt was, I think, an overreaction.

"But Aamer made it very difficult for himself. He could have put his hands up and said, 'I'm sorry, I made some inaccurate remarks, but I defend my right to speak up for client'."

"It perhaps should have been dealt with by way of a referral to the Law Society.

"People from south of the Border think this is a judge trying to shut a lawyer up. But many lawyers in Scotland have refused to sign the letter of support. It's a lot more complex than some people have made out.

"It's not simply about freedom of speech for lawyers. Lawyers have a certain responsibility. If we have a platform, we shouldn't mislead or misrepresent situations."

Mr Scott does not think a guilty verdict against Anwar will cause other solicitors to be less willing to speak out.

"Speaking as a lawyer with over 20 years of experience, I'm not worrying about talking to anyone.

"Notwithstanding this case, Aamer can probably carry on as he was doing before. I don't see it as a problem."

But the case could have more serious repercussions south of the Border, where it is common practice for lawyers to proclaim injustice.

"That's not the way we do things up here," said Campbell Deane, a prominent media lawyer.

Mr Deane believes that, if Anwar loses, the case will "inevitably" end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

"The right to freedom of expression naturally conflicts with restrictions on what lawyers can and cannot say.

"The domestic courts are entitled to put restrictions on legislation – provided they comply with European law. If he loses, this will go to Strasbourg."


THE trial of Aamer Anwar at the instigation of Lord Carloway, below, exposes the conflict between a centuries-old legal rule and a basic human right.

As one observer put it: "Contempt of court and freedom of speech are not comfortable bedfellows."

Mr Anwar is accused of a common-law contempt – or actions that are an affront to the court. That might be willfully impeding the smooth running of the court, or doing something that brings it into disrepute. But what amounts to contempt is less clear-cut.

Solicitors have been held in contempt for turning up late. One was tried for passing love letters to a colleague. Lawyers are not subject to more stringent rules than the public, but much of their business goes on in court and they can fall foul of the law.

Terrorist from alva

MOHAMMED Atif Siddique is currently serving eight years after becoming the first Scot to be convicted of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism offences. Then a 21-year-old student from Alva, Clackmannanshire, he was described in court last autumn as a "wannabe suicide bomber".

The most serious – possessing al-Qaeda propaganda material on his laptop computer "for a purpose connected with terrorism" – led the judge, Lord Carloway, to impose the sentence.

The student had also made a series of extremist claims to fellow students at Glasgow Metropolitan College, including that he would "blow up" the city.

He had been under surveillance by the security services for several months when he was detained at Glasgow Airport.
"... many lawyers in Scotland have refused to sign the letter of support. ..." :)
I just love the idea of a terrorist from Alva!
The prat is just upset that HE LOST THE CASE, next I expect to hear claims of racism from him
Cuddles said:
I just love the idea of a terrorist from Alva[/b]!

I don't know about that but there were some bluddy ugly women from Alva when I went to St Morons High in Stirling.

He did the (alleged) crime so lets hope he can do the time as well. But Inf/RMP you are right - its almost time for the racism card to appear.

A lawyer in jail - 8)
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