Law and religion round-up – 10th January

Roundup of a fairly quiet week…

“Grossly offensive” or just “offensive”?

On Tuesday Pastor James McConnell, of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in North Belfast, was found not guilty of making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam. District Judge Liam McNally, sitting in Belfast Magistrates’ Court, advised Pastor McConnell to consider the impact of his words more carefully in future. However, he concluded that though the words complained of had been offensive, they were not “grossly offensive”. He agreed with Laws LJ in Karsten v Wood Green Crown Court [2014] EWHC 2900 (Admin) [at 21] that

“The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances.”

Unusually for the Magistrates’ Court, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service posted the transcript of the judgment: see DPP v James McConnell [2016] NIMag 1. We noted it here.

More on CORAB

Early in December we posted a note on the newly-published report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good and suggested that some of the early comments raised as many questions about the commentators as about the report. In a cross-post from the UCL Constitution Unit’s website, Bob Morris suggests that the recommendations are influenced as much by the nature of its membership as by any focus on the wider public interest: “the Commission largely assumes that the interests of religion are to be taken as read rather than, like as with any other institutions, open to and tested by challenge”.

Trinity Western Law School: round four begins Continue reading