A senior judge could be called on to investigate a complaint that Cherie Blair handed down a more lenient sentence to a man who had been convicted of fracturing a person’s jaw because he was religious.
Mrs Blair, a devout Roman Catholic who sits as a part time judge under the title Cherie Booth QC, spared Shamso Miah from jail last month after he was convicted of assaulting a person at a bank queue in east London.
The 25-year-old from Redbridge, north-east London, was given a two-year suspended sentence instead of a six-month jail term because, Mrs Blair said, he was a “religious person” who had not been in trouble before.
In response the National Secular Society made an official objection to the Judicial Complaints Office which handles complaints against members of the judiciary. Last night the OJC said the complaint was being “considered under the Judicial Discipline Regulations”. If it finds that Mrs Blair may have breached those regulations, a senior judge would then be brought in to investigate and could recommend formal disciplinary action.
Mrs Blair was hearing the case at the Inner London Crown Court on 23 January. The court heard how Mr Miah, who described himself as a devout Muslim, had punched Mohammed Furcan in the face following an argument with over who was first in a queue at a bank.
CCTV captured Mr Miah punching Mr Furcan in the face before running out the bank. When Mr Furcan followed him to demand why he had been hit, Mr Miah lashed out again knocking Mr Furcan to the pavement and breaking his jaw.
In court Mr Miah pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. At sentencing, Mrs Blair appeared to take into account Mr Miah's religious convictions as a partial reason for imposing a more lenient sentence.
“I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before,” she said. “You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said Mrs Blair comment’s appeared to show a “discriminatory and unjust” favouritism towards religious people and a presumption that people with faith are more entitled to leniency because they should have a stronger moral code than non-religious people.
“We feel it’s wrong that someone so high profile as Mrs Blair, and she is very high profile as a Catholic, should make such remarks in court,” he said. “The man was incredibly violent and broke someone’s jaw for no apparent reason. She said that he would have got a six month sentence but was suspending it because he was a religious man and would know he was doing wrong, which we feel implies that a non-religious person wouldn’t know it was wrong.”
He added: “We strongly feel that this kind of consideration should not play any part in sentencing. The idea that someone who is religious gets a lighter sentence is outrageous. The indications are that people are losing their religion very fast in this country, so it would disadvantage many people if they were treated more harshly in court than people who go to church.”
Jonathan Bartley, from the liberal Christian think-tank Ekklesia, agreed. “You can’t pretend religion is an irrelevant factor in assessing someone's behaviour because faith will always have some sort of an impact on how we behave,” he said. “However it would be very wrong to assume that just because a person is religious they will automatically be a good person. You only have to look back through history to know that is not the case.”