Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 3 March 2024

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Judge who declined to jail terrorism offence trio to be investigated

Antisemitism groups say that Tan Ikram, who spared the three women prison over pro-Palestinian protests, should have stood down from the case
Jonathan Ames
, Legal Editor |
Ben Ellery
, Crime Editor
The Times
Tan Ikram is facing accusations of bias after it emerged that he liked a pro-Palestinian post on social media
Tan Ikram is facing accusations of bias after it emerged that he liked a pro-Palestinian post on social media AVALON.RED

A senior judge who allowed three women convicted of terrorism offences to walk free will be investigated over alleged bias, The Times understands.

Tan Ikram, the deputy chief magistrate, faced a barrage of criticism in February after he “decided not to punish” the women, who had displayed paraglider images at a pro-Palestinian protest in London.

After the judge handed the convicted defendants conditional discharges, it emerged that he had recently liked a social media post that branded Israel a “terrorist” and called for a “free Palestine”.

Ikram, 58, who also sits on the body that appoints judges in England and Wales, had liked a LinkedIn post by a barrister who had previously promoted conspiracy theories claiming that Israel allowed the October 7 attack.

In response to reports of his social media activity, Ikram said that he had liked the barrister’s post by mistake.

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Senior legal figures — including Suella Braverman KC, the former home secretary and attorney-general, and Robert Buckland KC, the former justice secretary — expressed serious concerns over the judge’s behaviour and potential perceptions of bias.

Heba Alhayek, Pauline Ankunda and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo were given a conditional discharge rather than jail sentences, after being found guilty of offences under the Terrorism Act
Heba Alhayek, Pauline Ankunda and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo were given a conditional discharge rather than jail sentences, after being found guilty of offences under the Terrorism Act
PA

Two antisemitism groups lodged a formal complaint with the judicial authorities over Ikram’s sentencing remarks and his social media conduct.

It is now understood that the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office will review allegations that Ikram was potentially biased and therefore should have stood down from overseeing the trial of the three women.

Heba Alhayek, 29, Pauline Ankunda, 26, and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27, were found guilty at Westminster magistrates’ court in February of an offence under the Terrorism Act after displaying images of a paraglider at a protest in central London seven days after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

Some of the attackers had flown over the border wall into Israel on paramotors, a kind of motorised paraglider. The militants killed 1,200 Israelis that day.

Ikram, who has a CBE and is a “social mobility ambassador” for the Law Society, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, gave each of the women a 12-month conditional discharge, meaning that they could face a prison sentence if they commit a crime within the year.

The three displayed images that referenced the paramotor attacks on Israel on October 7
The three displayed images that referenced the paramotor attacks on Israel on October 7
PA

Under the maximum magistrates’ court custodial sentencing guidelines for the offence of carrying an article supporting a proscribed terrorist organisation, they could have received a six-month jail term.

The move to investigate Ikram for potential bias came as the judge was caught in a separate row. The Sunday Telegraph has reported that he allegedly told students during a diversity presentation last year that he had “horrified” the police by jailing one of their officers who was found guilty of sending racist messages over WhatsApp.

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The newspaper pointed out that the Court and Tribunals Judiciary code of conduct states that judicial office holders cannot talk about “cases they or colleagues hear” and are urged to “not comment on matters of controversy”.

It is understood that in its forthcoming review, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office will only assess allegations against the judge of potential bias in relation to his social media activity and that it will not consider his sentencing remarks. The Crown Prosecution said last week that it would not seek a judicial review of the sentence handed down to the three offenders.

Ikram is the second-most senior magistrate in the country. Two years ago Paul Goldspring, the chief magistrate, was given “formal advice” — an official rebuke — by the lord chief justice and the lord chancellor “for making remarks during a hearing which gave the impression that he was endorsing a contentious political cause”.

That rebuke — which came after a review by the investigations office — related to comments Goldspring made while sentencing a man for wearing T-shirts supporting banned Palestinian terrorist groups while among Jewish communities. As he handed the offender a suspended jail sentence, Goldspring said that his support for the Palestinian cause was “worthy” but that his backing for political violence was not.

The Times understands that the investigation into alleged bias by Ikram is likely to be completed within a month.

A spokeswoman for the office said that it would not comment.

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