Director of Public Prosecutions abandons application to take Iain Duncan Smith ‘Tory Scum’ case to Supreme Court

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Tom Wainwright and Elena Papamichael, both of the Garden Court Protest Rights Team, represented Ruth Wood, instructed by Lydia Dagostino of Kellys Solicitors.

Owen Greenhall, of the Garden Court Protest Rights Team, represented Radical Haslam, leading Mira Hammad of Garden Court North, instructed by Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar Solicitors.

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The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has confirmed that he will not seek to challenge the High Court’s decision in R (DPP) v Manchester Magistrates Court, ex p. Wood and Haslam [2024] 1 Cr. App. R. 12 before the Supreme Court.

The two defendants, Ruth Wood and Radical Haslam, were charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress, contrary to s.4A of the Public Order Act 1986, for calling Iain Duncan Smith ‘Tory Scum’ as he was leaving the Conservative Party conference in Manchester in 2021. Following a trial before the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales in November 2022, both defendants were acquitted on the basis that they were exercising their right to free speech and therefore the defence of ‘reasonable conduct’ was made out.

The DPP applied to the Chief Magistrate asking him to state a case for the High Court’s consideration, an application which was rejected as ‘frivolous’. The DPP then brought a claim for judicial review, challenging both the refusal to state a case and the acquittals themselves. Following a contested hearing before Lord Justice Popplewell and Mr Justice Fordham in October 2023, the application was refused. The High Court ruled that, where Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR are engaged in relation to this offence and although the reasonable conduct defence carries a ‘reverse burden’, it is still the prosecution who must ‘convincingly establish’ that it is necessary and proportionate to interfere with those rights. They went on to hold that the Chief Magistrate was right to conduct a fact-sensitive proportionality assessment as part of the reasonable conduct defence and there was nothing to undermine the conclusions that he reached in that assessment.

Following the ruling, the DPP applied to the High Court to certify that a point of law of general public importance was involved in the proceedings and to grant leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The High Court certified that the point of law raised was one of general public importance and raised ‘far-reaching issues’. Leave to appeal was refused, as would ordinarily be the case, although the High Court went on to observe that in addition to that being the usual procedure there were ‘other powerful reasons’ which would, in any event, have led them to refuse leave in this case.

The next stage would have been for the appealing party to then apply to the Supreme Court to grant leave to appeal. However, the DPP has since confirmed that they are not making such an application, effectively bringing proceedings to an end. As the High Court held when (unusually for such cases) they ordered that the DPP pay the Interested Parties their costs, Ms Wood and Radical Haslam have been ‘fully vindicated’.

Tom Wainwright represented Ruth Wood from first instance and led Elena Papamichael in the High Court proceedings, instructed by Lydia Dagostino of Kellys Solicitors.

Mira Hammad of Garden Court North represented Radical Haslam from first instance, and was led by Owen Greenhall in the High Court proceedings, instructed by Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar Solicitors.

Tom, Elena and Owen are all members of the Garden Court Protest Rights Team.

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