News Criminal Defence 4th Mar 2019

Gudrun Young Secures No Case to Answer in Controversial First Prosecution for ‘Transgender Hate Crime’

The country’s first prosecution for “transgender hate crime” collapsed when District Judge Woolard sitting at Basildon Magistrates Court ruled that there was no case to answer at the close of the prosecution evidence.

The complainant, Helen Islan, who works on behalf of the controversial charity Mermaids, alleged that the defendant was guilty of harassing her by potentially exposing her and her transgender child to bullying and abuse.

Helen Islan frequently campaigns on transgender issues via social media on the basis that she is the mother of a transgender child.  The defendant Miranda Yardley, herself a transgender woman, had tweeted a message linking Helen Islan’s full name to her Twitter handle and stating that the “self-interest of Helen Islan is in justifying to herself her decisions to trans her daughter”.  The information was contained in a screen shot of a Google search which had also brought up an image of Helen Islan and her children.

When Helen Islan took to Twitter to complain that this had “outed” her transgender child, Miranda Yardley accused her in subsequent Tweets of being a “manipulative liar”.

It was the Defendant’s defence to the offence under section 2 of the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 that all of the information contained in the original Tweet was already in the public domain – put there by Helen Islan herself  – and she was entitled to express her views regarding the complainant’s campaigning activities.

Having heard the complainant’s evidence, the Judge stated that there was no evidence of harassment, that issues of freedom of speech enshrined in Article 10 of the ECHR were clearly engaged and that it was a case that the CPS should never have brought.  Questions need to be asked as to why the CPS not only decided to prosecute Miranda Yardley in these circumstances, but were also so quick to inappropriately label it an incidence of “transgender hate crime”.

Of even more concern is that the CPS unsuccessfully applied for reporting restrictions to prevent the complainant’s full name being published (on the basis that this was necessary to send a message to future victims of “transgender hate crime” that the courts would protect them by granting anonymity).  The Judge unhesitatingly ruled that there was a clear public interest in reporting matters of this kind.

However, had the application been granted, this would have set a worrying precedent. This is especially so given that the case had potentially far-reaching implications, not only in terms of the sensitive and difficult debate on transgender issues, but regarding freedom of speech and in particular the extent to which the expression of views on social media that some people find offensive can or should be criminalized.

Whilst the attempts by the police and the CPS to signal support for victims of what is increasingly called “hate crime” (the very concept of which requires further thought and definition) is understandable, they should be very wary of attempts to use the court system to silence political and ideological opposition.

Gudrun Young was instructed by Murrays Partnership.

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