One Source Dec 19 Deputy Director

Tower Hamlets Dec 19 Updated 600

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High Court judge says injunctions against street protests over teaching of “LGBT issues” at Birmingham school must continue

Injunctions restricting street protests over an infant and junior school’s teaching of “LGBT issues” should remain in place, a High Court judge has ruled.

The case of Birmingham CC v Afsar (No 3) [2019] EWHC 3217 (QB) concerned Anderton Park Infant and Junior School in Birmingham, a maintained school which teaches children between the ages of 4 and 11. It has approximately 700 children on the roll.

The claim for injunctions, brought by Birmingham City Council, sought to curtail some of the ways in which objections to the teaching have been expressed. The local authority sued four defendants – three individuals and ‘persons unknown’.

The council’s case was that the protests involved nuisance and disruption. It also complained of what it said was unacceptable abuse of teachers on social media.

On 31 May 2019 Birmingham secured a temporary injunction pending trial.

Mr Justice Warby summarised the conclusions he had reached on the main issues:

1. The legislation relied on by the Council permits it to seek, and empowers the Court to grant, injunctions of the kind that are claimed in this action.

2. The claim pursues legitimate aims: preventing disorder and protecting the reputations and rights of others. The grant of injunctions in pursuit of those aims would not be contrary to the EA [Equality Act 2010], which does not apply to the pursuit of claims for anti-social behaviour, public nuisance, or obstruction of the highway. Alternatively, the conduct complained of by the defendants relates to the content of the curriculum, which is outside the scope of the EA. Accordingly, injunctions of the kinds sought would not amount to, or serve to enforce, unlawful discrimination. I am not persuaded, in any event, that there has been such discrimination. The teaching has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by the defendants, and misrepresented, sometimes grossly misrepresented, in the course of the protests. The matters that have actually been taught are limited, and lawful.

3. (a) and (b): Despite the sometimes gross misrepresentation of its teaching, the Council has not sought restrictions on the content of the protestors’ expression, but restrictions on the way the protestors express themselves. Some such restrictions, in respect of the street protests, are necessary in a democratic society, and proportionate to the legitimate aims I have identified. On the balance of probabilities, the defendants bear responsibility for the most extreme manifestations of objection to the supposed teaching at the School. But even if that were wrong, an Exclusion Zone, and restrictions on the frequency and duration of protests, and on the use of amplification, would remain legitimate interferences with the protestors’ freedom of expression.

3. (c) The evidence does not, however, demonstrate a pressing social need to impose restrictions on what is said on social media.

4. (a) It is possible to formulate injunctions which restrict the way in which street protest is carried on, in terms that are clear, and limited to the prevention of what would otherwise be unlawful behaviour. For the reason just given, it is unnecessary for present purposes to decide whether the prohibitions on abuse of teachers that have been imposed to date were clear enough, or whether some other form of words could be arrived at to achieve the same objective.

4. (b)There is a sufficient evidential basis for the grant of final injunctions against each of the first three defendants…. As for Persons Unknown, it is legitimate to grant permanent injunctions against those individuals, albeit their identities are unknown, who have been served with, and have thus had the opportunity to take part in the proceedings. The description of Persons Unknown will need to be adjusted to correspond with this group.

“In the light of these conclusions, I will grant injunctions against the first three defendants and Persons Unknown. I will not continue the injunction restraining abusive statements on social media, and there will be no injunction against Mr Allman [a Christian campaigner from Devon], who has succeeded in resisting the imposition in these proceedings of any further restriction on his freedom of speech,” the judge said.

Responding to the ruling, Dr Tim O’Neill, director of education and skills at Birmingham City Council, said: "This was always about protecting the school and community from the escalating levels of anti-social behaviour of the protests, not about trying to stop peaceful protest.

"As this court case has demonstrated, there remains a gap between the reality of what is and isn’t being taught at the school. Protests of this kind only serve to attract fringe elements whose aim is to stoke division and hatred. We would therefore continue to encourage any concerned parents to engage with the school to have constructive discussions and address any issues.”

Dr O’Neill added: "Looking ahead, it is important to remember that the Department for Education is introducing compulsory relationships education next year, helping children from all backgrounds understand the society they are growing up in, and fostering respect for others and for difference.

"This will include consultation with parents, giving them space to share concerns and ask questions, and allowing the school to listen to parents’ views, though ultimately the school will decide on how this part of the curriculum is taught. It is really important therefore that we support and create opportunities to have open dialogue at all our schools across the city.”

He said the city council would continue to work with the school “to look at the best way to resolve any ongoing concerns”.

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