High Court of Justiciary restores convictions of three men who wore IRA shirts to Celtic match

Lord Matthews
Lord Matthews

A Crown appeal against the Sheriff Appeal Court’s decision to quash the convictions of three men who wore allegedly offensive T-shirts to a football match between Celtic FC and Linfield FC has succeeded in the High Court of Justiciary.

Daniel WardMartin Macaulay and Ryan Walker had successfully argued on appeal to the Sheriff Appeal Court that the Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow had been required to prove that the image on the shirts depicted a member of the Irish Republican Army. The Crown challenged this decision, saying that the reference to the IRA was immaterial to the detail of the charge.

The appeal was heard by the Lord Justice GeneralLord Carloway, sitting with Lord Woolman and Lord Matthews. The appellant was represented by Edwards QC, and the respondents by Mackintosh QC and Paterson, solicitor advocate.

‘Green Brigade’

The respondents had attended a match at Celtic Park stadium between Celtic and Northern Ireland side Linfield FC on 19 July 2017. During the match, they stood in an area of Celtic Park where the “Green Brigade” Celtic fan group were known to congregate, wearing identical T-shirts depicting a black-clad male wearing a beret and sunglasses against the backdrop of the Irish flag. A number of banners depicting the same image were unfurled around them, causing an immediate and hostile reaction from the opposition support.

The Crown charged the respondents with breach of the peace by “wearing a shirt which displayed an image of a figure related to and in support of a proscribed terrorist organisation, namely the Irish Republican Army”. It led in evidence two Scottish police constables, PCs Taylor and Stirling, and one Irish police constable, PC Nixon. Each of the officers described the image depicted on the shirt in detail, describing the image as of a paramilitary-type figure, although only the Irish constable specifically mentioned the IRA in his evidence.

At summary trial, the sheriff found all three of them guilty and imposed fines on each of them. The respondents appealed by stated case, arguing that the Crown had failed to provide corroborated proof that the image on the shirts depicted a member of the IRA.

The Sheriff Appeal Court agreed with the respondents’ submission and quashed the respondents’ conviction. In the opinion of the court, Sheriff Principal Turnbull said: “The nature and specification of the proscribed organisation is an integral part of the charge of breach of the peace, as the Crown chose to libel it. In the absence of proof of that element, there is no other conduct libelled sufficient to support a conviction for breach of the peace.”

It was submitted for the Crown that the reference to the IRA in the charge was merely narrative and did not require corroboration. The essentials of the charge were that the respondents had attended the match wearing T-shirts depicting Irish republican paramilitary images, to the alarm of normal citizens. The sheriff was able to determine the IRA link using judicial knowledge in looking at the images provided in evidence along with the evidence of the Irish police constable.

For the respondents, it was argued that the reference to the IRA in the charge was a crucial fact that the Crown was required to prove. Further, a sheriff could not be expected to recognise terrorist iconography in general, or the difference between the IRA and other Northern Irish paramilitary organisations.

Image ‘perfectly clear’

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Matthews. Noting that it was not in dispute that the image on the shirts was associated with Irish terrorism, he said: “Looking at the images himself, the sheriff was entitled to come to the view that the image depicted a member of a terrorist organisation affiliated to Irish independence.”

He continued: “In some cases such guidance will be more necessary than in others. At one end of the range might be the famous image of Che Guevara. At the other end might be someone wearing the garb of an obscure terrorist organisation based in the Far East. Here the image is perfectly clear and the sheriff could assess what was shown for himself.”

Examining the scope of judicial knowledge generally, he said: “As it is neatly put in Wilkinson, Evidence, ‘facts which are common knowledge, either in the sense that every well informed person knows them or that they are generally accepted by informed persons and can be ascertained by consulting appropriate works of reference are deemed to be within judicial knowledge’.”

Applying the principles of case law to the facts at hand, he said: “The image in this case, which the appellants were proved to have been displaying, consists of the Irish tricolour upon which is superimposed a representation of a man in military garb, wearing a beret and sunglasses. All well informed persons know that this is a depiction of a member of a proscribed Irish republican terrorist group such as the IRA or similar organisations. There is no need to prove this by ‘expert’ evidence.”

He continued: “Even without any formal evidence that the figure represented a member of the IRA, the sheriff would have been entitled to find that the wearing of the T-shirts was designed to antagonise the Linfield supporters and amounted to a breach of the peace.”

Lord Matthews concluded: “The reference to the IRA was merely narrative. The sheriff was entitled to look at the image and come to the view that it depicted a member of a terrorist organisation affiliated to Irish independence. The word ‘proscribed’ and the reference to the Irish Republican Army could have been deleted. On that basis alone there was sufficient evidence to allow the sheriff to convict.”

For these reasons, the appeal succeeded, with the decision of the original sheriff upheld.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

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