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Pussy Riot

Let us for a moment imagine a scenario where a group of balaclava wearing individuals burst into St Paul's Cathedral and staged an impromptu foul mouthed protest against the British government in which the protesters sung (having seen the protest video I must say I use the word "sung" very loosely) an expletive filled re-write of the Lord's Prayer.

Would Pussy Riot have committed a criminal offence in the UK?  Yes, it is highly likely that they would be committing an offence under s. 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which makes it an offence to intentionally "cause a person harassment, alarm or distress", by using "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour".

Is storming a church and offending the people therein sufficient to make out the offence?  I don't know what the lyrics were, but the reports indicate that they were highly offensive.  Would that cause a group of nuns and priests distress?  Quite possibly.  Certainly, in Russia they all gave evidence that it did.  Would the storming of the church alarm those inside?  Again, the evidence seems to suggest that it did.

Because of the expletive filled version of the Lord's Prayer it is likely that they would be guilty of the more serious offence of religiously aggravated causing harassment, alarm or distress.

The basic offence carries a maximum sentence of six-months imprisonment.  The religiously aggravated form of the offence carries a maximum sentence of two-years imprisonment.  Both can come with a fine additional to the prison sentence.

If Pussy Riot had carried out their actions in the UK they would have been committing a criminal offence just as they were in Russia.  I seriously doubt that a defence of lawful protest would have succeeded in this country any more than it did in Russia because of the aggressive behaviour and lyrics seem to indicate that the whole point of the protest was to be as offensive as possible and thus garner as much publicity as possible.

I think a lot of people should get off of their high horses about the convictions, because they would have committed an offence in this country and quite probably would have gone to prison for it... anybody remember the idiot boy swinging from the flags on the Cenotaph?

The real issue, which seems to have only received marginal attention amid all the hype about the three defendants and the glamorous stars who have supported them in their plight, is the antecedents of the court and judge.  While I think that an English or Welsh court would also have convicted, I did not that this judge has now acquitted just one defendant in the last 140-odd to have come before her... that's a worse record than our magistrates courts!  Also, why is there no jury?  I've not heard that question asked at all.  We do have lay magistrates and DJs who sit sans jury here, but they can only dole out relatively short prison sentences.

That is, in my opinion, the scandal.  The press seem to have largely over-looked the real problems that this trial highlights while focusing on the women and their new celebrity supporters.

On a final point, it's also worth addressing the issue that this case has only been brought due to Vladimir Putin's dislike of being criticised.  Maybe, but it must have been obvious to such an experienced politician that he could have minimised the effect of this protest by ignoring it.  If he has them prosecuted to stop their message being spread then it's been a singularly unsuccessful effort on his part.

Comments

  1. Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/23-24/32/contents

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agreed with @anonymous this was used in London and is still on statute books.

    ReplyDelete

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