Jerry Springer – The Opera back in Court

Christian group seeks Judicial Review of decision not to prosecute for 'blasphemous libel'

Christian Voice, an evangelical group, has launched judicial review proceedings of a magistrates’ court decision not to prosecute the BBC and the theatrical producers of Jerry Springer – The Opera for blasphemous libel.

The controversial stage production toured the UK between 2003 and 2006 whilst the BBC broadcast the show in January 2005. City of Westminster Magistrates refused the summons to bring a prosecution against the broadcaster and producers for blasphemous libel in 2006. Blasphemous libel is the publication of any matter that offends against God, Jesus Christ or Christianity.

Michael Gledhill QC, appearing for the director of Christian Voice, argued the district judge had made a mistake in refusing to issue the summonses as the show had clearly “crossed the blasphemy threshold”.

He said the show was “an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief”, and one that would never have been staged or aired in Britain had it been a satire about Islam, not Christianity.

Leave from the divisional court was granted by Mr Justice Underhill. Liberty, the human rights group, has been granted permission to intervene in the case, which will test whether the age-old criminal offence is compatible with the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The offence applies only to Christianity, and arguably only the established form of Christianity in England and Wales, which has led the Council of Europe and the Law Commission to call for its decriminalisation in recent years. The law was rarely used in the twentieth century although a private prosecution was brought in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem about a Roman soldier’s lust for Christ.