A summons for a private prosecution for blasphemy against Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, and producer Jonathan Thoday in respect of Jerry Springer the Opera was refused late on Friday 12th January by
District Judge Miss Caroline Tubbs decided that a ruling in judicial review which went against the Christian Institute had prejudiced criminal proceedings for blasphemy, and that the production was covered by an escape clause in the Theatres Act 1968.
Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, laid the information for the summons before Horseferry Road Magistrates on Monday 8th January 2007. That date was two years to the day since the broadcast of the musical on BBC2 and six months to the day from when it finished its tour in
Solicitor Michael Phillips said:
'In essence, as to whether a summons should be issued, the leading case is that of Ian Charlson. In that case it was held that there are four main questions for a Magistrate to consider. Those are (1) whether the allegation is an offence known and if so whether the essential ingredients are present, (2) if the offence is out of time, (3) whether the court has jurisdiction, (4) whether the informant has the necessary authority to prosecute. In addition, it must be considered whether the prosecution is vexatious.
'(1) District Judge Tubbs held that blasphemous liable is an offence known to law. However, prosecution, she said, is prevented because of s2(4) of the Theatres Act 1968: "No person shall be proceeded against in respect of a performance of a play, or anything said or done in the course of such a performance - (a) for an offence at common law where it is of the essence of the offence that the performance or, as the case may be, what was said or done was obscene, indecent, offensive, disgusting or injurious to morality." She held that the application falls within this provision.
'(2) She also held that the essential ingredients of the offence are not prima facie present. As the High Court considered the case in the Judicial Review brought by the Christian Institute: "I have made a judicial assessment as to whether the presence of the essential ingredients of the offence are prima facie present. I am supported in that view by the decisions of the
and the GPCC [the BBC's internal Governors' Programming Complaints Commission -Ed] in this very play. I do not find it credible that they would have come to their respective decisions if the performance / programme they considered in great detail, with Christian religious sensibilities in mind, in fact contained the essential ingredients of an even more serious matter - a criminal offence of blasphemous libel."
'In essence,' said Mr Phillips, 'Those were the main reasons why she refused to issue a summons.'
Stephen Green has asked Mr Phillips to proceed with an application to the High Court to review the District Judge's decision and he will make a further statement in due course.