Assault charges to be pressed against cathedral official
Peter Tatchell has announced plans to issue a witness summons to require the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, to testify as a defence witness. This will be the first time in modern history that an Archbishop of Canterbury has been summonsed to court.
Tatchell has been charged wlth “violent behaviour”, following OutRage!’s Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral, when he interrupted Dr. Carey’s sermon to condemn the Archbishop’s support for discrimination against lesbians and gay men. Tatchell will plead not guilty in Canterbury Magistrates Court on 15th May. “I am certain Dr. Carey will confirm that I remained totally non-violent”, said Tatchell.
Tatchell also intends to call as defence witnesses three other Cathedral officials, six members of OutRage!, and seven journalists, photographers and film crew.
Tatchell is pressing charges of assault against a Cathedral official who repeatedly punched him, as recorded and televised on BBC and ITN news on Easter Sunday, 12th April. The Cathedral official involved has been interviewed already by the police, and is likely to be charged soon with “common assault”.
Tatchell has offered to drop the charge of assault against the Cathedral official if the charge against him is also dropped.
The charge of “violent behaviour” against Tatchell is under Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, which was originally part of the Brawling Act of 1551. The maximum penalty is £ 100 or two months’ jail.
Under the 1551 Act, Church Courts had the power to try lay people for offences relating to Church property. This right was abolished by the Act of 1860, which transferred legal powers in this area to the civil courts.
The last recorded prosecution under the 1860 Act for disrupting a church service was in 1966. Eight protesters interrupted the Sunday morning service at the start of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Opposed to the Labour Government’s support for the American invasion of Vietnam, they heckled the then Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as he read the lesson in Brighton’s Methodist Church. Charged with violent behaviour, two of the protesters were jailed for two months.
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