Olswang has been in the High Court today (20 November) defending Jerry Springer:The Opera producer Jonathan Thoday against accusations of blasphemy.
Relgious group Christian Voice has gone to the court in a bid to get Thoday, along with BBC director general Mark Thompson, prosecuted under common law’s blasphemous libel, which dates back more than 400 years and has its roots in canon law.
Earlier this year permission for the group to bring a private criminal action was refused by the City of Westminster magistrates’ court, which led to the group seeking the current judicial review. It is scheduled to finish tomorrow.
Olswang partner Paul Stevens, who is leading the team for Thoday, said the firm is arguing that allowing a prosecution for blasphemy would contravene article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to free speech. Civil rights group Liberty, which has come in as an intervener, said the law is outdated.
Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said in 2005 that the musical show televised on the BBC portrayed Jesus as a “coprophiliac sexual deviant”.
If Christian Voice is given permission to prosecute it will be only the third action in more than 80 years for blasphemy, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The last successful prosecution was brought in 1977. British campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who sought to enforce Christian morals, successfully brought a blasphemy case against Gay News for publishing a poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, about a Roman soldier’s homosexual love for Christ.
Michael Gledhill QC of 2 Dyers Buildings was instructed by Michael Phillips of Criminal Law Advocates for Christian Voice.
Naina Patel from Blackstone Chambers was instructed by Olswang’s Stevens for Thoday.