Freedom of Expression

Royal Court Calls In The Lawyers, Shuts Down Debate

You’ll know that a production of a play, Seven Other Children, is presently taking place at the New End Theatre. A review of that production is online at The JC.

The review tells a remarkable story:

One member of the audience suggested to me that the two pieces should be staged together, which might raise the level of the debate. But it appears that debate is not the Royal Court’s priority.

Before Stirling’s piece was performed, the cast read out his letter of complaint about Churchill’s play sent to the Royal Court’s artistic director Dominic Cooke. But permission to read Cooke’s reply has been withheld by the Royal Court, with a threat that it would sue.


The Senior Partner of the law firm concerned is Anthony Burton, who is also the Chairman of the Board of the Royal Court Theatre. Interestingly, his head of Employment Law is Makbool Javaid, who was an associate of Al Muhajiroun founder, Omar Bakri Mohammed and Anjem Choudry, and whose name appears on countless Al Muhajiroun leaflets, including a ‘fatwa‘ declaring war on the United States and the United Kingdom.

Now, it is certainly a convention that one doesn’t generally republish correspondence without the consent of the other party. However, is that a rule of law? I don’t think it can be. Usually, copyright law allows for some degree of ‘fair use’ of written material. Particularly when two theaters engage in public debate on political matters – the debate instigated by the Royal Court’s decision to stage Seven Jewish Children – it is surreal to have recourse to lawyers to prevent that discussion taking place.

This isn’t just a “ridiculous” turn of events. It is an outrageous reaction by the Royal Court.

Effectively, what has happened is this. The Royal Court has put on a play which, in the views of many critics, is racist. The Artistic Director has reacted to these criticisms. However, he is now using lawyers, to prevent the reply from being published and further discussed.

So, what does Dominic Cooke have to say, in response to the argument that Caryl Churchill’s play was unfair in its portrayal of Jews? All we have to go on is this short excerpt, which was published in a press release:

“Are A Doll’s House or King Lear fair?”

We really can’t speculate as to what Dominic Cooke’s position is, because the quotation is very short.

We can, however, comment on his decision to call in the Royal Court’s lawyers, Simons Muirhead and Burton, to shut down debate. That says an awful lot about the man, and the institution he runs. One theatre threatening to sue another if they repeat in public a discussion about an extremely controversial play? I think that is without precedent.

Frankly, how can Cooke rely on free speech arguments, in good faith, after taking this action?