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Justice for Rowan Laxton (or the abuse of harassment laws)

This is a guest post by Paul Leslie

It is right that individuals should have legal redress against a series of actions or behaviour which either, in the workplace, has a serious and detrimental impact upon their professional lives or seriously disrupts their private lives. Many people, including me, however, continue to be concerned about the undue broadness of the wording (“harassment, alarm or distress” – particularly “distress”) used in the Protection from Harassment Act, Crime and Disorder Act (which created the notorious ASBOs – often misused, as can be seen in the relevant section of the Statewatch site) and subsequent legislation. All these are open to abuse and have been abused against legitimate protesters and have sometimes been used, unnecessarily, as a very blunt weapon in interpersonal disputes, causing more harm than good.

Valid arguments have been put forward to justify sending a legislative message to offenders guilty of crimes inspired by religious or racist bigotry. There have also been valid counterarguments to the effect that legal provisions – like those in the Crime and Disorder Act – which punish offences inspired by such bigotry more severely give ammunition to racist propagandists who claim that the principle for equal treatment under the law is being undermined.

Be that as it may, even those people who, unlike me, think the above laws are perfect and, like me, think that senior Foreign Office employee Rowan Laxton behaved like a lout and bigot must be disturbed by the clear miscarriage of justice of which he is a victim. (See “Foreign Office man guilty of racist rant”)
At the time of the alleged “racially aggravated harassment”, the ranting against f-ing Israelis and Jews in front of a TV screen, Laxton was alone. With no-one in his presence to harass, how could he be found guilty of harassing third party complainants who happened to overhear his rant? (It is not like the cases of a person or persons, alone in a house or flat, opening the window to shout abuse into a public street, or playing music night after night at a deafening level to torment a neighbour or neighbours.)

Friends of civil liberties should hope that Laxton appeals and is successful – lest this case serves as a precedent.

Better yet, some legally expert friend or friends of Israel should offer to help for free – provided that Laxton is open-minded enough to learn about Israel’s case for the defence and reads, for example, the sourced CAMERA and NGO-Monitor refutations of the lies about Israel’s campaign in Gaza.