Failed Blasphemy Prosecution Leads to Threat of Bankruptcy

As sites such as MediaWatchWatch have noted, Stephen Green of Christian Voice is on his uppers after attempting to bring a private prosecution against Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday of Avalon Promotions over the BBC2 broadcast and theatre production of Jerry Springer: the Opera. Green spent thousands trying to have both men put on trial of blasphemy, but the High Court refused to allow a prosecution in December. The UK blasphemy law was abolished a few months later.

However, Green now owes the two men’s solicitors a fair bit in legal costs, and he is facing bankruptcy, as he explains in a third-person press release:

In a hearing a fortnight ago, Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday were awarded costs totalling £90,000 against Green, who is the National Director of the prayer and lobby group Christian Voice. The BBC’s solicitors were awarded £55,000 and Olswangs Solicitors, who acted for Thoday, got an order for £35,000.

…The money is due to be paid today, but Stephen Green doesn’t have it.

He has written to both Mark Thompson and Jonathan Thoday inviting them to waive their costs in the interests of goodwill and justice.

Green goes on to argue that because both men could well afford to write-off the legal costs, to pursue him would be “vindictive”. He then complains about how the BBC uses its money, noting that “the BBC is currently wasting £18million a year on a Gaelic TV channel”, among other random observations. He concludes:

‘Quite simply, I do not have the money anyway, and will be certainly end up bankrupt if Thompson and Thoday decide to enforce these punitive costs.’

Human Rights barrister Paul Diamond said the case raises issues under the European Convention of Human Rights about access to the courts.

Stephen Green concluded: ‘How are people with limited means expected to bring actions of public importance against public bodies or wealthy people? It is outrageous that a public-spirited individual should be dissuaded from upholding standards of public decency in a public body because of the fear of adverse, grotesque costs orders.’

I actually have a bit of sympathy here: legal costs can be excessively high. But Green didn’t go after “a public body” – it seems that he went after Thompson personally, while Thoday is a private individual. Green is himself solely responsible for the “adverse, grotesque costs” which Thompson and Thoday were obliged to rack up to defend themselves; it would indeed be exceptionally generous if they were to show kindness to a man seems to have some personal problems, but there is no moral reason why they or their solicitors should be out of pocket rather than him. There’s even a moral case against a bail-out: I know of cases where people have been obliged to pay out for legal assistance over threats that have never even come to court, and without the risk of losing money there would be many more enemies of free speech using the courts – and the very same threat of high costs – to silence ideas they didn’t like. Why couldn’t the courts have demanded evidence that Green had the funds to pay for any losses before he was allowed to proceed?

Paul Diamond, meanwhile, is a specialist in “religious liberty” issues, and he works closely with the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the US Alliance Defense Fund.