26 January 2012
The case that derailed the trial began when a Glasgow Sheriff ruled in September 2011 that Mrs Akram, a woman charged with housing benefit and income support fraud, was being denied the right to a fair trial because she didn't have legal representation when interviewed by officers of the Department for Work and Pensions and Glasgow City Council. The case has been referred to the Supreme Court and could affect "reporting agencies" such as Customs and Excise and local councils throughout the UK. If could also affect census cases currently going through the courts in England and Wales.
A census case involving a woman named Mary Reid is due to be heard at Falkirk Sheriff Court on Monday. That case may also have to be adjourned.
SACC is campaigning for all cases connected with the 2011 census to be dropped.
Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:
"The census is turning into a political train-crash as well as an ethical and political one. Former Iraqi prisoners who say they were tortured by CACI staff are still trying, more than 7 years on, to get CACI to answer for its actions in US courts. It's a disgrace that the Crown Office has so far been determined to rush to court with cases against principled ordinary people who have harmed no one. Today's move gives the Crown Office a chance to think again. It should drop all the charges."
Notes for Editors
1. More about the case PF v Akram at: Cadder extension goes to High Court UK compliance referral to Supreme Court_likely
and Cadder ii - the sequel
2. Following the adjournment of Barbara Dowling's trial diet today, a new intermediate diet has been set for 6 May and trial diet for 15 May. The date at which the Akram case will come before the Supreme Court isn't known.
3. Also see the SACC Press Release of 24 January: Scotland's First Census Prosecution - Drop the charges, says SACC
Press Release from SACC
24 January 2012
The first person to be tried for non-cooperation with Scotland's 2011 census will be appearing in Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday. Barbara Dowling is pleading not guilty to offences under the Census Act 1920 and will be representing herself. She says she committed no crime. But she objected to the use of CACI - a defence contractor that had been involved in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq - to carry out key census work for the Registry Office of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland).
Human rights group SACC is supporting Barbara in her fight for justice and says that the Crown Office should drop all charges against people accused of not completing their census forms. Many thousands of Scots either ignored their census forms or returned them partially completed. Very few will be prosecuted.
Barbara Dowling is an anti-Trident campaigner and will be appearing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on Wednesday - the day before the census trial - for non-payment of a fine arising from a peaceful blockade of Faslane
Richard Haley, Chair of SACC said:
"It's completely unjust for a tiny handful of people to be dragged through the courts when everyone know that thousands of Scots binned their census forms. Barbara has been singled out for reasons that at best are arbitrary, and at worst look like blatant political victimisation. When the law is applied as selectively as that, it isn't a law at all, just a vehicle for official whims.
"But what really sticks in the gullet is that CACI has ducked the law altogether over it's involvement in abuses at Abu Ghraib. Former Iraqi prisoners have been trying for years to bring a lawsuit against CACI in the US, but CACI has blocked their efforts, claiming immunity as a US government contractor. And in Scotland in 2009 the Crown Office refused to prosecute CACI over Abu Ghraib. Their reasons were confused and technical. But almost no one except the Director General of the Register Office has ever suggested there's any lack of evidence. How can the Crown Office have the gall to prosecute Barbara and people like her while it ignores evidence of torture and other gross abuses?"
CACI UK, the firm contracted to carry out key work for the census, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based defence contractor CACI International.
From August 2003 until the early autumn of 2005 CACI International was contracted to provide "interrogation services" for the US Army at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While CACI staff were employed as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, prisoners were humiliated and tortured there by US military police. Photographs of the abuse shocked the world and led to the conviction of a number of low-ranking US soldiers by courts martial.
Former Abu Ghraib detainees say CACI directed and participated in their torture in various ways, including torture with electric shocks, beating, forced nakedness, forced participation in physical activities to the point of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, deprivation of food, deprivation of oxygen and torture with extremely hot and cold water.
CACI vigorously denies doing anything wrong, but is fighting hard to prevent US courts weighing the evidence. It is in any case undisputed that CACI staff interrogated people held without charge or trial at Abu Ghraib. Prisoners they questioned were deprived of human rights guaranteed in international norms.
Last year SACC urged people in Scotland to work for justice in the only way open to them. We urged them to refuse to cooperate with the census, saying:
"We encourage non-cooperation with the census. Most forms of non-cooperation are completely legal. You can withhold as much or as little cooperation as you wish. Illegal forms of non-cooperation - civil disobedience, in other words - are in our view a morally and politically reasonable response to this disgraceful census. But if you engage in civil disobedience, you do so on your own responsibility and at your own risk. We will, of course, provide whatever support we can, whatever form of non-cooperation you choose. "
When the census contract was awarded to CACI in 2008, solicitor advocate John Scott said:
"The Scottish government, and any government with a principled stance, should not be going near any firm with such associations, even indirectly. The government is opening itself up to significant and justified protest. Ordinary members of the public could refuse to have anything to do with the census. A boycott is something to be considered. It would be a legitimate step. We cannot ignore our principles."
Now it's time for the Crown Office to bring this charade to a close and drop the charges.
Notes for editors
1. Barbara Dowling's trial over the census will be held The trial will be held from 10am in Court 16, Glasgow Sheriff Court Thursday 26 January.
2. Barbara Dowling's fine enforcement hearing will be from 10am 25th January, Dumbarton Sheriff Court. The £500 fine was the outcome of a trial in October 2010 for blockading Faslane
3. For More information on the Crown Office's 2009 decision not to prosecute CACI, see: Crown Office in jurisdiction flip-flop over torture claim_firm.html
and PF sidesteps Gecas precedent and claims no jurisdiction for census company accused of war crimes
4. For more background about CACI and Scotland's census, see the EthicalCensus website maintained by SACC.
Mrs Akram in fact lost her case at the Glasgow Sheriff Court in September 2012, but the Sheriff's decision stated that legal principles entitling suspects interviewed by police to legal advice also apply to "reporting agencies" such as housing authorities etc. This aspect of the Sheriff's judgement was at the time expected to have wide implications throughout the UK. It now appears from the Procurator Fiscal's request for an adjournment that the case has been referred to the Supreme Court, as earlier commentators (eg the Firm Magazine, referenced in SACC item) had anticipated.