More legal humiliation for Howard

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The Independent Online

In the latest legal humiliation for the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, the High Court yesterday ruled that his decision to ban from Britain the Rev Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, was "unlawful by reason of procedural unfairness".

Mr Justice Sedley confirmed that the Home Secretary did have the power to exclude Mr Moon, founder of the sect known as Moonies, if he concluded his presence would not be conducive to the public good. But this power could only be exercised after Mr Moon had had an opportunity to put his defence, which in this instance Mr Howard had not allowed him.

"This is precisely the most unpopular applicant for whom the safeguards of due process are most relevant to a society which acknowledges the rule of the law", the judge said.

Mr Moon, 75, had been due to address a crowd of around 1,100 in a conference centre in central London on Saturday. His movement claims about 700 full- time adherents in Britain and 4 million round the world. It is financially active and successful: the Charity Commissioners estimate that 60 businesses in this country are connected with it. In America the church owns a conservative newspaper, the Washington Times, and a fishing fleet.

It is a syncretistic religion which combines elements of Christianity, Confucianism, and Buddhism; and is most famous for mass marriage ceremonies. Some 750,000 people around the world attended the last such ceremonies, according to a spokesman for the church, George Robertson. But only about 10 per cent of these were actually believers, he said. The others were members of different faiths who wished to reaffirm their marriage vows.

The church has been the subject of a sustained propaganda campaign for supposedly brainwashing converts. However, research quoted in the Home Office's own guide to new religious movements shows that few of the young people attracted to the cult actually join it; and of those who do, over 90 per cent leave within two years.

Mr Moon was first excluded from this country in 1978, when he was refused permission to extend his eighth visit here. In the Eighties, he served 11 months in an American jail for tax evasion. Permission to visit was granted him again in December 1991 and July 1992, but he took no advantage of either offer.

A Home Office spokeswoman said yesterday afternoon that the Home Secretary's refusal of entry clearance still stood. "However, on a procedural point the judge said it was open to the Rev Moon to make further representations to the Home Office, which we would consider."