Liberty challenges blasphemy laws in 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' case

19 November 2007

Stephen Green of Christian Voice is bringing the prosecution against Jonathan Thoday, the producer of the award-winning musical and Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC, which broadcast the show in January 2005. Green was initially denied permission to prosecute by the City of Westminster magistrates’ court and will challenge that refusal in the High Court tomorrow.


Liberty’s Legal Officer Anna Fairclough, who leads the intervention, said:


“These blasphemy laws should be shelved in dusty archives, not used as a tool to bring mischievous prosecutions against the Arts. Thirty years have passed since the last blasphemy prosecution, making the law ripe for repeal.”


Blasphemous libel claims can be brought against the publication of any matter that insults, offends, or vilifies the Deity or Christ or the Christian religion. Whether the publication intended to be blasphemous is irrelevant in blasphemous libel claims.


Liberty will argue that the offence of blasphemy violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects free speech and that blasphemy should be decriminalised in English law because of its lack of legal certainty (as has been held by the Irish Supreme Court in Corway v Independent Newspapers [2000]).


Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128


Notes to Editors


1. The High Court will hear the application of Stephen Green and the City of Westminster Magistrates Court and John Murray Thoday and Mark Thompson and Liberty on 20 November 2007. For a copy of Liberty’s intervention contact jenc@liberty-human-rights.org.uk.


2. The Council of Europe recommended in June 2007 that blasphemy should be decriminalised, as did the Law Commission in a report in 1985.


3. The last successful prosecution using blasphemy law was brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem, 'The Love that Dares to Speak its Name', about a Roman soldier’s love for Christ.


4. The award-winning 'Jerry Springer: The Opera', was performed at theatres around Britain from October 2003 to July 2006.