In an extraordinary act, both exceeding their mandate and breaching – at least symbolically – their statutory separation, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the West Midlands Police last year jointly complained about a programme aired on Channel 4 – Dispatches: Undercover Mosque – to the broadcasting standards body, OFCOM.
But today, the BBC reports, they have been embarrassed in court, have payed out a six figure sum in settlement of the libel case, and forced to apologise to Channel 4 and the programme makers.
The job of the CPS is to establish whether there are grounds for prosecution in a case, assist the police in establishing the line of enquiry, setting out the charge and prosecuting the defendants. If there is not criminal case to answer, the Crown Prosecution Service has no business involving itself. Yet in this case, most inappropriately, it made a complaint to OFCOM and issues a joint press release with the West Midlands Police.
Then the wheels came off. OFCOM exonerated the documentary makers (see p9) who then sued the CPS and the Police for libel. And they’ve thrown in the towel.
The CPS has to pay out £100,000. Half to cover Channel 4’s legal costs; half to the Rory Peck Trust for freelance journalists and their families.
The role of the CPS in the justice system can be summarised as ‘exercising judgement’ on whether there is a legal case to answer – a role previously taken by the police. (Read about the minutiae at Wikipedia if you like.) In this instance, some key decision-maker has exercised extremely poor judgement and – adding insult to injury – not only muddied the waters of civil liberties, but blew £100,000 of public money in the process. If there is no criminal case to answer, the CPS have no business interfering, and nor do the police.
The fact that the WMP and the CPS had reported the programme to OFCOM allowed many people with an interest in turning a blind eye to extremism to write the programme off as ‘Islamophobic propaganda‘. In a CiF article, MCB spokesperson Inayat Bunglawala took the joint WMP/CPS press release as a starting point, but by the end of his article was referring to it as the “CPS/police ruling”, giving it a status it simply didn’t have. I wonder if the MCB and others will now join the WMP and the CPS in apologising to C4? Will they now admit that the concerns raised by the documentary are valid and that the sickening examples of racist and homophobic incitements shown are real?
Incitement to violence is still a criminal offence. Having admitted their error, will the Police and the CPS now return to investigating the real criminals. Instead of ‘policing’ speech and ‘prosecuting’ journalists, will our Law & Order squad investigate the real purveyors of hatred and violence exposed by Dispatches?
There is a copy of Undercover Mosque up on Google Video, if you haven’t already seen it.