Charity’s ad opens political can of worms

Posted: 28th January 2014

WestminsterThe Court of Appeal has directed further investigation of a charity’s claims that its controversial adverts were ‘pulled’ from the Transport for London (TfL) network at the instigation of the Mayor, Boris Johnson, with the improper objective of boosting his re-election campaign.

The Core Issues Trust (CIT) is a charity which describes itself as a Christian initiative looking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek a change in sexual orientation and expression. In response to adverts run by gay rights group Stonewall, CIT sought to air its contrary views as to the nature of homosexuality in a poster campaign on London buses.

TfL blocked CIT’s campaign on the basis that the wording of the posters implied that ‘there could be some reversal or recovery from homosexuality’. Such an implication was, in TfL’s view, likely to cause widespread offence to members of the public as well as trespassing into areas of great controversy and sensitivity.

CIT mounted a judicial review challenge to TfL’s decision, claiming that it breached freedom of expression and religion rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and that it was motivated by the improper purpose of advancing the Mayor’s re-election campaign. Those arguments were dismissed by the High Court, which upheld the lawfulness of TfL’s decision.

On appeal, CIT presented fresh evidence in the form of emails which it argued supported its case that the Mayor had ‘instructed’ TfL to ‘pull’ the adverts and that he had done so in order to advance his political interests. It was submitted that the Mayor had swiftly contacted a national newspaper ‘in order to make political capital out of the story’ and that, the day after the relevant decision, arrangements had been made for him to appear at hustings organised by Stonewall.

In the light of the fresh evidence, the Court found that it was impossible, without further inquiry, to decide whether or not TfL’s decision was taken for the purpose of advancing the Mayor’s re-election campaign. The case was remitted to the High Court for further investigation of that central issue.

Despite TfL’s repeated denials that the decision to block the poster campaign was politically motivated, the Court found that the wording of one of the emails ‘raised a strong prima facie case’ that TfL had acted on the Mayor’s instructions. In those circumstances, the Court directed that the Mayor, on behalf of the Greater London Authority (GLA), should be added as a defendant in the action. The Mayor and other officials would be expected to put in written statements prior to the High Court hearing and it would be a matter for the judge to decide whether they should be required to undergo cross-examination.