Bus Ad case back to the Court of Appeal

5 June 2015

Core Issues Trust (CIT) will be back at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday (10th June) to apply for permission to appeal after it was ordered to pay costs in excess of 100K.

The Trust will also be seeking to appeal the ruling by Mrs Justice Lang last year that Boris Johnson did not order its bus adverts to be banned at the eleventh hour. The decision was incomprehensible in light of fresh evidence that had emerged demonstrating that Boris Johnson had personally instructed Transport of London (TfL) to pull the bus ads hours before they were due to become public.

The Trust’s ads (‘Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!’ ) invoked the idea that it is possible to move away from unwanted same-sex attraction, and were a direct response to provocative ads being run by LGBT lobby group Stonewall: “Some people are gay. Get over it!.” Stonewall’s adverts were permitted to run on 1000 London buses, whilst the Trust’s adverts were banned hours before they were due to become public.

Transport for London has continued to promote campaigns by the LGBT lobby, whilst denying Core Issues Trust the freedom to express an alternative viewpoint.

Earlier this year, TfL commissioned rainbow colours ‘pride-themed’ buses to run on the number 8 route in London; the buses came after TfL unveiled a rainbow crossing to mark the beginning of civil partnership conversions.

Last year, TfL permitted a new Stonewall poster campaign to run on London buses and tube stations showing two workmen next to the provocative caption: “One Is Gay, If this bothers people our work continues”. The new Stonewall campaign was launched just before the Court of Appeal was expected to give its original ruling in the Trust’s Bus Ad case.

Bus Ad case time line:

  • In March 2013, the High Court ruled that TfL had applied its policy “inconsistently” and “partially” when it barred the Trust’s bus adverts but permitted those of Stonewall to run. Passing the ruling, Mrs Justice Lang upheld the ban on the Trust’s advert but concluded that TfL’s decision-making process was “procedurally unfair”, “in breach of its own procedures” and “demonstrated a failure to consider the relevant issues.”
  • Following the decision, the Trust submitted a Freedom of Information request which revealed emails suggesting the Mayor had personally instructed TFL to ban the adverts. One letter from the Mayor stated ‘I instructed that [the ad] be immediately stopped’. Emails originating from senior staff within the Mayor’s Office and Transport for London (TfL) read ‘Boris has just instructed TfL to pull the adverts’, ‘The Mayor’s intervention is coming through strongly’ and ‘The mayor immediately put the wheels into motion to halt the campaign after being alerted to the plans by the Guardian’. The Trust took the case to the Court of Appeal which sent it back to Mrs Justice Lang in January 2014 to consider the new email evidence which she had not seen at the first hearing.
  • Despite the evidence, Mrs Justice Lang ruled in July 2014 that Boris Johnson had not ordered the Trust’s adverts to be pulled. Remarkably, Boris Johnson denied banning the adverts in a signed witness statement to the High Court, despite taking personal credit in the media for doing so at the time. Lawyers for Boris Johnson argued that when the Mayor had used the word ‘instruct’ he was merely expressing a point of view. Mrs Justice Lang concluded in her judgment that “the dispute at the hearing about the correct meaning of the word ‘instruction’ was in danger of becoming a debate about semantics.”
  • The Trust has now been ordered to pay costs in excess of £100K for challenging Boris Johnson’s inconsistency.

At the time of the ruling, Andrea Williams said: “Mrs Justice Lang cleverly avoided deciding which version of the Mayor’s ‘truth’ was true. She explained away the contradictory versions of what he said as a mere matter of ‘semantics’. I am surprised that the Judge decided to accept Boris’s implausible claim that when he said ‘instructed’ he was not using the word as it is generally understood but instead that he was simply ‘expressing his opinion’. 

“This judgment marks a dark day for freedom of expression. It demonstrates that fear of a powerful gay lobby will trump the freedom of individual expression and choice. In most all things we must be free to have both sides heard in any debate, and must allow people the freedom to express that belief as broadly as possible, up to and including the point of giving offence to the Guardian’s 750,000 readers. That is what true freedom is and that is what democracy means.” 

Find out more about Core Issues Trust
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