Civil Liberties

The undue political interference of 'undue spiritual influence'


Giles Fraser (pictured centre) has written a perfectly-pitched (yes, indeed) piece, ‘Is it one rule for the Hindus and another for the Muslims?‘, which relates to the judgment in the case of Lutfur Rahman (pictured right), whom Judge Mawrey (pictured left) found guilty of inter alia the crime of exerting ‘undue spiritual influence‘ on his fellow Muslims in order to bolster his chances of being elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

It seems democratically peculiar (not to say politically erroneous) that an 18th-century law should have been reiterated in the Representation of the People Act 1983 (§115), out of concern at the “power and influence of religious office”, which (it appears) must be singled out for particular restrictions on the usual freedoms of expression permitted during an election campaign. Giles Fraser is absolutely right about this (yes, indeed): there is as much ‘undue spiritual influence’ exerted by certain Hindu spiritual leaders (not to mention Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish sermonisers) as there is by the imams of Tower Hamlets. For Judge Mawrey to single out the Islamic Ummah as being particularly more susceptible to that influence (by virtue of their being a less sophisticated, lowly educated and politically illiterate community [these comparative terms drawn from Mawby’s judgment]) is based on an extraordinarily jaundiced view of Muslims in modern Britain.

Perhaps it was Mawrey’s penchant for rhetorical flourish (“hapless clerics”; “ecclesiastical bleat”; “politics has gone to the dogs”): his judgment appeared to be written with one eye on a Daily Mail headline and the other on his Thesaurus.

If it be permissible for Trupti Patel, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, to urge her fellow Hindus to vote Conservative because “the very honour of (their) faith is in danger of being undermined” by voting Labour or LibDem, where is the crime in a whole ibadah of imams writing a letter urging Muslims to vote for Lutfur Rahman? As the Rev’d Giles notes:

Like Patel’s letter, the imam’s letter contained no sense of threat, nor implication of any spiritual consequences for those who chose to vote otherwise. Yet in an astonishing display of double standards, the Imams letter was used to void an election result and Patel’s letter has passed without mention. Which is why one could be forgiven for concluding that someone has it in for one particular community here. For just like English attitudes towards the Catholic Church in the C19th, English attitudes towards Islam often regard it as some malevolent and foreign power, requiring exceptional legal treatment – including silencing them at election time.

If there be no threat of physical harm to person or property, or, indeed, not even the inference that Muslims who fail to vote for Rahman stand to forfeit their virgins and lakes of wine in the hereafter, where is the crime? Indeed, where is the spiritual influence? This cavil is not to suggest that Rahman was in any sense innocent: it is simply that the judgment of his guilt in vote-rigging, bribery and corruption etc., etc. is tainted ever so slightly with an injection of dubitable spiritual infraction, which is (or ought to be) no violation of the law at all.

Mawrey has indeed “opened the most enormous can of worms”, as Fr Giles warns. But it’s more than that: it is a Gordian knot, hornet’s nest, Pandora’s box and a knot of vipers. In a legal opinion by Martin Chamberlain QC (whom Fr Giles commissioned, to his great credit [Chamberlain is no bleeding-heart lefty-liberal rights advocate]), it may be seen that Mawrey’s judgment is inconsistent not only with our own traditions of freedom of speech, but with the European Convention on Human Rights as it relates to the freedom of expression.

Lutfur Rahman has announced his intention to challenge Mawrey’s decision, and, in respect of ‘undue spiritual influence’ at least, he would appear to have justifiable grounds for doing so. As Chamberlain observes:

In any event, by virtue s. 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the HRA), s. 115 must, so far as possible, be read compatibly with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (which guarantees the rights of the clergy to freedom of expression and the rights of members religious communities to receive the views of their religious leaders) and Article 14 ECHR (which guarantees the right to enjoy that freedom without discrimination on grounds of religion or membership of a profession).

The prohibition in s. 115 can and should be read narrowly so that a member of the clergy might commit the offence by urging his congregants to vote for or against a particular candidate on pain of excommunication or expulsion from a religious group. But there would be no offence in merely expressing a view about the merits of a candidate at an election; nor in urging congregants or others to vote for or against a particular candidate; nor in asserting a moral or religious duty to vote for or against a particular candidate.

It cannot be a crime for a member of the clergy to use “the power and influence of religious office to convince the faithful that it is their religious duty to vote for or against a particular candidate”, as Mawrey says. Not least because, as Chamberlain makes plain, “it would be very difficult to predict in advance whether making a particular statement would or would not amount to the commission of the offence”.

We must thank the good Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser for pursuing this important matter of religious liberty: “undue influence involving the threat of spiritual injury” belongs to another age. Let the clerics of all faiths preach their notions of truth, justice and dignity. Let them proclaim their apocalyptic invective against political candidates and their parties. As long as worshippers are permitted to protest and nail their theses to the doors of the local cathedral, church, mosque, temple or gurdwara, it ought to be no crime at all to exert spiritual influence. Absent the threat of physical harm, what business is it of the state to discern and determine whether that influence is ‘undue’?

  • Martin

    I recall his grace making comments about whom one should vote for. 😉

  • Linus

    Whether you threaten someone with damnation if they don’t vote for your approved candidate or you threaten them with violence, in both cases you’re engaging in voter intimidation, which is illegal. Unless you can produce your god as a witness, offer reasonable proof of his identity and then get him to confirm that he requires us to vote in a particular way, you don’t have much chance of successfully defending yourself.

    On the other hand if you present yourself as a follower of a particular god and offer an opinion as to which candidate you believe best represents what that god wants, but don’t present it as an absolute obligation but rather your own personal interpretation, I don’t see how anyone can object to that.

    The problem is using religion as a means to coerce voters. If there’s no coercion, I don’t see the problem.

    • I find myself agreeing essentially agreeing with Giles Frazer and Linus.

      IMO unfettered freedom of expression is the only way to go, even if we don’t like the outcome. How can we ban them saying stuff we don’t like unless we accept the same strictures?

      If there is such a thing as the Muslim block vote and last I heard there was (and its usually Labour) I don’t see how that can be dealt with by saying ‘you can’t say that.’

      We knew, or could have known, what their culture was like before we invited millions of them to settle in our country.

      • Linus

        I didn’t say that I believed in “unfettered” freedom of expression.

        As a social animal man must place limits on all of his individual actions in order to promote the common good. That includes freedom of speech.

        Incitement to violence should never be acceptable, for example. Violence harms individuals and society, so the rights of the individual to express the opinion that violence should be done to certain groups or individuals can be legitimately suppressed. Any benefit accruing to the individual from the expression of his opinion is outweighed by the damage that opinion does to the mutual confidence we must all have in each other in order to live in society.

        In saying that, I believe freedom of expression to be an important principle that should be respected wherever possible. But as with all freedoms, there have to be limits. I also believe in freedom of action for the individual, but not to the point of saying that all actions are allowable. Anything that manifestly harms another individual or group cannot be justified by saying “it’s my right to do or say as I please”. The overriding principle has to be respect for one’s neighbour’s right to live unmolested. Social cohesion depends on it.

        Most of those who call for unfettered freedom of expression place their own individual satisfaction before well-being of other people. They’re behaving in exactly the same way as, for example, a paedophile who argues that his right to sexual satisfaction outweighs a child’s right to remain unmolested. In such cases “I do not want” trumps “I want” because each of us has an absolute right to the exercise of personal sovereignty (or, in the case of minor children whom society judges incapable of giving informed consent, to have that sovereignty placed in trust for them by law until they come of age). In the same way, the absolute right of individuals and groups who do not molest others to live unmolested can never be trumped by freedom of speech.

        Express all the opinions you like until the point at which they prevent your neighbour from exercising his legitimate personal sovereignty, at which point you must give way to his superior right.

        • Thanks you Linus.

          I don’t think I misrepresented you, I wrote I ‘essentially’ agreed with you, and then after a full stop stated than IN MY OPINION ‘unfettered freedom of expression is the only way to go’

          Perhaps the term ‘unfettered’ is too strong, obviously incitement to rob, deprive of liberty, cry fire in a concert hall when there isn’t a fire, or physically harm should not be accepted.

          But you want to be careful comparing people with paedophiles for having strong views that may upset people. over egging the pudding, crying wolf and all that.

          kind regards

          • Linus

            I was comparing no one individual to a paedophile. I was merely using the category to illustrate where personal rights must give way to the rights of other people, and to those of society as a whole.

            If you’re not insisting on absolute unfettered freedom of speech then our views are probably not that far apart. At least not on this subject…

  • Uncle Brian

    The vicar of X will be doing porridge, then, for threatening his parishioners with corporal punishment (inflicted with a crowbar, no less) for voting for the wrong party after he, the vicar, had made his wishes perfectly plain to everyone in his congregation,

    • Dominic Stockford

      (2)A person shall be guilty of undue influence—

      (a)if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting; or

      • Uncle Brian

        Dominic, I was just being facetious, of course, when I wrote that, but maybe I was unwittingly on to something after all. When it says,
        or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting;
        it evidently means that a “hapless cleric” may suddenly feel the hand of Plod grabbing the back of his collar for something he did after election day, not just before or even during. How interesting!

        • Dominic Stockford

          Yes, that is the phrase I noted from your helpful guidance. Who knows…….

  • Judge Mawrey is right though, Muslims are backward.
    Anyway, I don’t think it’s right that religious leaders can make their
    followers feel guilty if they don’t vote for whom they say they
    should vote for. It’s a sort of religious blackmail isn’t it then?
    People are or should be free to vote for whom ever they
    want to. Christians/muslims/hindu’s budists etc.. surely can
    exercise their own consciences according to what they believe not
    what the imam/vicar etc… tells them when voting.

  • IanCad

    I do think that the USA has the best policy on this. If a religious organization is actively supporting a political party then its tax-exempt status is at risk.
    Brackets within brackets (Para. 7) Handy for people like me who have thoughts within thoughts and tend to ramble. Very useful.

  • “But there would be no offence in merely expressing a view about the
    merits of a candidate at an election; “ This seems OK to do,
    everyone has an opinion.

    “nor in urging congregants or others to vote for or against a particular
    Now this is borderline, just what language can be used to urge
    congregants? Instilling fear by any chance? Putting undue pressure
    on congregants to vote for a certain candidate by making favourable
    promises on their behalf?

    “nor in asserting a moral or religious duty to vote for or against a
    particular candidate.”
    No, this is going too far. I’m a Christian but I don’t see it my moral
    or religious duty to vote for a Labour candidate or a particular
    Labour candidate.

    • Owl

      Why Labour? Are they paricularly “Christian”? If so, then I must have missed it.

      • Of course not, but isn’t that what most of the lefty Bishops wanted us to vote?

        • Owl

          Sorry, I misunderstood. Mea culpa!!

  • Inspector General

    Have to a agree with Fraser (Lord, please make this the last time…)

    There’s enough actual third world quality electoral corruption to be ever vigilant about in British democracy without carving out a spiritual influence whatever. Besides, the secular blighters in this country would silence Christianity given the opportunity, so damn poor show, Mawrey.

    Carry on regardless, chaps!

  • carl jacobs

    There was an interesting line in Fraser’s article about Hindus supporting the Conservatives because the Conservatives opposed outlawing discrimination based upon the Hindu caste structure. A couple of questions:

    1. Shouldn’t that already be illegal under UK law?

    2. Why would the Conservatives oppose this in any case?

    3. Is this an issue because the Hindu caste structure has been to imported into the UK and is being tacitly enforced beneath the legal radar.

    Tell me Cameron wasn’t just looking the other way for votes.

    • Phil R

      The difference is that unlike America we live in a multicultural society. Effectively and in practice it means that the law is not applied equally to every member of society.

      If Cameron is looking the other way, he is simply following established custom and practice.

      The Conservatives would not appose this discrimination because it is perceived to be something that only likely to be operating within the multicultural group and so not affecting the rest of the population. Effectively it means that the state sanctions practices that would be illegal if it took place in the general population.

      For the police etc this is a minefield to enter. That is why the Rotherham sandal happened for so long without proper investigation. The Police, social workers, teachers etc were afraid of being labeled a racist (Effectively end of career) and so did nothing,

      Roitherham or something like it will happen again and again until multiculturalism is completely irradicated.

  • Old Blowers

    ” In a legal opinion by Martin Chamberlain QC (whom Fr Giles commissioned, to his great credit ” Out of his own pocket?? Collection plate?

    Barristers do not come cheap, do they. Pro Bono ?

    I’m in the wrong job!!!

  • Old Blowers

    ” English attitudes towards Islam often regard it as some malevolent and
    foreign power, requiring exceptional legal treatment – including
    silencing them at election time.”


    ” Left wing attitudes towards Islam often regard it as some force for good and
    community peace, requiring exceptional legal treatment – including
    promoting calls for Sharia at anytime”

    Online Bull£$^% Translator works a treat!

  • Mike Stallard

    You are right.
    But did you see the election count and recount on u tube?
    It was disgusting. I do not want that to happen in my country.

    • not a machine

      I don’t know , I think I spot in in other elections now

    • Its not your country any more mate. And nobody asked for or is concerned about what you ‘want’.

      (Words of Big Brother ‘multiculturalism is good for you and you WILL like it or we’ll call you a racist Islamophobic bigot.’)

      • Phil R

        Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

        George Orwell

  • not a machine

    your grace considers vote rigging , I perhaps ponder if things are beyond in some thought processes into election rigging , If these boroughs cannot be tackled , it will continue and then we might be posting a thesis on the tip of a lance rather than nail

  • Hmmm …. no expensive lawyer was required. All Giles Frazer needed to do was to read the erudite and informed comments on Archbishop Cranmer’s thread when this was addressed this during the trial.

    • Here’s a (ahem) rather good comment:

      “According to the 1983 legislation, ‘undue influence’ is the use of intimidation or threats of ‘spiritual injury, harm or loss’ in order to ‘induce or compel’ a voter’s actions. Religious leaders may properly influence by argument and persuasion but must not threaten to refuse access to the rites of their religion or threaten divine punishment in this life or the next.
      The last time the law was used it concerned elections in Ireland where Catholic clergy had refused the rites of the Church in order to infiuence votes at an election with one priests telling the people that “the curse of God” would come down upon anyone who voted a certain way and that he would withhold the rites of the Church from them if they were dying.

      According to case law, a religious leader must not appeal to the “fears or terrors or superstition” of those he addresses. He must not ” threaten to
      excommunicate, or to withhold the Sacraments, or to expose the party to any other religious disability, or denounce the voting for any particular candidate as a sin or as an offence involving punishment here or hereafter.”

      And another by Old Jim:

      “This sort of nonsense should have been chucked off the statute books at the time of catholic emancipation. It’s dangerous now. There are not a few in the present age who wouldn’t have dared make such a law, but who, finding it ready made, will be tempted and disposed to use it with zeal. And will believe themselves to be on the side of right in so doing.”

  • Orwell Ian

    There were several reports of malpractice, voting fraud and intimidation at polling stations. It seems likely that “hapless clerics” of the Islamic variety were pressured into shaping the content of their “ecclesiastical bleat”. Anyway, events in Tower Hamlets seem less to do with absence of sophistication, education and political literacy of the residents and much more to do with mafia style governance which should never have been allowed to take root.

    • Inspector General

      Tower Hamlets is a shining example of the multicultural dream and the Inspector is hopeful that it will do its bit in the fututre to ensure that the Marxist party of Great Britain never again, with the help of the Queen of Scots Storm Troops, form a majority government in this land.

      RIP Chucky. We had such hopes for you going nearly all the way….

  • bluedog

    Your Grace, if it is the customary practice of Hindus and Muslims to coerce, rig ballots and permit the dead to retain their sacred duty of voting in elections, all of this would appear consist with a liberal interpretation of multiculturalism.

    • Orwell Ian

      And will shortly be incorporated into the ever widening portfolio of British Values.

  • Darter Noster

    There is surely a major and discernible difference between some lefty loon like Giles Fraser fulminating against the Tories on social media, and the situation in Tower Hamlets, where Rahman’s clerical goon squad were part of a concerted effort to coerce and intimidate the Bengali community through social, communal and religious means?

    Being told I’m not a good Christian by the Church of England’s lefty activist brigade just makes me want to laugh out loud, and is about as threatening as a Care Bear with the hump. Being told you are not a good Muslim in the atmosphere of ethnic and religious intimidation in Tower Hamlets must have been altogether different, as many Bengali residents have now come forward and pointed out.

    Allowing them to be coerced, threatened and manipulated by the same sort of corrupt Islamist politicians and dangerously politicised clerics that many of them came to this country to get away from in the first place, just so Giles Fraser can call down the wrath of God on anyone who isn’t as left wing as he is, seems like the worst kind of spineless, multi culti betrayal.

    • alternative_perspective

      Quite, context, if not everything, is pretty damned important. All application of law should be executed in consideration of this, especially as we no longer live in a homogeneous society where common assumptions often no-longer apply.

  • Inspector General

    The Inspectorate has decamped to the North of England for its annual sojourn and yesterday visited the magnificance that is Durham Cathedral. While there, consideration was given as to whether it would be feasable in all senses to build on such a grand scale in the name of Christ ever again. Probably not. It would not be the muslims or secularists objecting per se, but other ‘goodly’ folk, maybe even the’goodly’ Fraser ON BEHALF OF other parties.

    • Old Blowers

      Wonderful place, Durham. I envy you as have not been home for years.

      • Inspector General

        Think they’ve forgiven you by now, Blowers…

        • Old Blowers

          Probably but the wonderful memories of the loveliest cathedral and town in Blighty linger in the mind and soul. Soon as I hear the nameof the place, the song Leave old Durham Town by Roger Whittaker plays soulfully in my head. Great song and special times, old sport.

          • Inspector General

            No statue to Whittaker in the centre as you might expect, Blowers, and no mention of him in the cathedral. The Inspector can find no evidence he even knows where the place is, let alone visited the area.

            By the way, anybody tempted by Windows 8.1 then don’t be. Bloody awful thing. Pop ups everywhere.

      • Grouchy Jack

        Thank God for small mercies ……

    • When in Durham make sure to keep an eye out for street entertainers ….

      • Inspector General

        Go on Jack. The Inspector will buy it. You mean by that…

        • Used to be Happy Jack’s stomping ground in another ‘life’.

          • Inspector General


          • Wonderful Cathedral. Try to get up to Lindisfarne and Holy Island.

          • Inspector General

            Yes, having walked all over Cuthbert’s tomb, it’s the least one can do…

    • Pubcrawler

      Cathedrals? That’s SO 2nd Millennium! You need to get with it, Inspector: megamosques are all the rage now.

      • Inspector General

        You may be right Pub. You are more likely to find our politicians visiting mosques these days rather than mixing with the tourists at Durham cathedral, let alone the faithful therein….

    • Uncle Brian

      Inspector, when you say “on such a grand scale”, I don’t suppose you mean size alone. Architectural merit has a lot do with it. But if you’re inviting a present-day comparison based on size alone, give this one a try:

      It’s a little bit longer than Durham Cathedral, more than double the width, and several times the height. (All measurements taken from Wikipedia.) But bigger doesn’t mean better, okay? I’m not making any claims in that department.


      • Inspector General

        Brian, the Inspector admires the amazingly right proportions the Normans built at. Truly uncanny. Big, but not too big. Goldilocks proportions, if you will…

        • Uncle Brian

          I’m sorry to say that Durham is yet another one of the many places in Britain that I’ve never been to.

          • Inspector General

            A superb place. Unfortunately, it suffers from not being in the south, but does it? One might say that only its special existence known to the select few keeps the numbers of the interested down to the manageable. And a good thing too!

      • IanCad

        UB, Thanks for the link, it provided an hour of pleasant clicking around.
        What depth of reverence is displayed in these magnificent spiritual houses! It does seem to me though, that the Brazilian edifice you reference just dosen’t quite cut it in comparison to the beauties of earlier ages.

        • Uncle Brian

          Agreed, Ian. As I said, bigger doesn’t mean better. But it does mean a lot of pilgrims. Look at the size of the car park alone: 4,000 buses and 6,000 cars.

    • IanCad

      “Probably not.” Absolutely Not!!
      Health and Safety would never allow it.

  • Manfarang

    Some of the elements of Durham Cathedral are similar to the Jafiriyya Palace in Saragossa, in Northern Spain, itself strongly influenced by the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Saragossa was taken by Alfonso, the king of Aragon, in 1118, to become his capital, and may have been familiar to the bishops of Durham and their entourage. Another possible way in which ideas could travel was through the movement of craftsmen.
    The closest similarities between Durham and Andalusian architecture are the intersecting arcades in the Cathedral nave (before 1133), and the overall structure of the Galilee Chapel, constructed in the late twelfth century.

    • Inspector General

      Greetings Manfarang. Durham employed a ‘Prince Bishop’ for centuries who encompassed both temporal and spiritual power. It was a unique arrangement in the British Isles. Thus Durham would have been well known throughout Europe accordingly. No doubt the crusaders would have brought back knowledge of Islamic architecture too.

    • IanCad

      Early Muslim art and architecture. How they have gone downhill since those years of conquest!
      IS likes to knock things down. Still has the blood lust though.

      • Manfarang

        Not in Dubai.

        • IanCad

          You’ve got me there.

  • Gladiatrix

    This is utter rubbish. 1. The election of Lutfur Rahman involved one person in a small geographical area; there is no comparison with an exhortation to vote across the country. 2. Giles Fraser failed to declare his personal connections with and bias towards Lutfur Rahman. 3. His barrister has misread the law and failed to apply the relevant test set out in the Representation of the People Act, unlike the judge who got it right. 4. Giles Fraser has no business commissioning and publishing a legal opinion on a judgement in a case where he was not a party; at best this is an example of raging egotism at worse it verges on contempt of court.

    • Even a raging ego, who is contemptuous of others, will occasionally get something right.

      • Old Blowers

        Talking from personal experience are we? *Huge chortles*

        • Grouchy Jack

          Grrrrr …. feck off, Blowers.

        • carl jacobs

          ROFL. Ka-ZING! Although, properly speaking, Jack isn’t contemptuous.

          Even so you get two points for a clean take-down.

          • If you’re gonna be a smartass, first you have to be smart. Otherwise you’re just an ass.

          • Grouchy Jack

            That was my line ….

          • Oooops …. apologies.

    • Laska

      The article lacks nuance and awareness of the difference in Tower Hamlets. There you have the mosques at the centre of religious and political life. Get on the wrong side of them and you risk their welfare services and their lobbying powers with local government. In short religion and politics have been melded. The expression of this power is religious in its language – Islam – and declares loyalty of the directed group through their religious identity – Muslim. What we have in Tower Hamlets is a de facto sharia state ruled through “spiritual” directions from the Muslim leaders. I don’t think that an appeal will work on this issue. The only way it would succeed is if naivety rules and the judges ignore the practical facts on the ground in Tower Hamlets and follow the simplistic abstractions of Giles Fraser. Spiritual direction is fine but not when it has real consequences for those who do not respond correctly to this direction.

  • ‘Spiritual influence’ was the least of the reasons for Rahman’s dismissal. The accusations made against him were deadly serious and did not rely on ‘spiritual influence’.

  • Politically__Incorrect

    Looking at the photo above, i was struck by the tiny Giles looking up adoringly at the other two. He’s not their love child is he?

    [Sorry ladies and gents, I didn’t get round to writing a sensible comment]

    • Orwell Ian

      He has the demeanour of one watching his halo ascend into orbit.

  • ZX10

    Er hang on so BBC lurvie Biles Frazzer wants a Hindu to be persecuted for daring to suggest vote the wrong way in a letter to a community who as far as I can see done nothing to enforce that indict and he thinks that’s as bad as full on vote rigging and fraud on a industrial scale with an element of violence and intimidation at voting sites and against individuals !
    So what has Frazzer got against Hindus ? what is it with the left and it’s selective racism ?