Victory as magistrates rule street preachers were free to evangelise in lockdown

23 July 2021

London magistrates have thrown out a case against a Christian preacher, who was fined and prosecuted by the Metropolitan police for evangelising on Good Friday, 2020.

Joshua Sutcliffe, 31, along with one socially distanced friend, was preaching and handing out leaflets in Camden, North London, on 10 April 2020 when the two of them were stopped by the police.

‘I could not have helped the homeless if I were online’

Detained and surrounded by four police officers, Joshua was told that he was outdoors without a reasonable excuse and acting contrary to government lockdown Covid regulations. Despite Joshua informing the officers that he was a pastor and worship leader and was therefore allowed to be outdoors providing charitable services, he was cautioned and received a fixed penalty notice of £60.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Joshua contested the fine at the City of London Magistrates Court on 6 July 2021. Joshua told the court that on his way home from preaching, he had handed his shoes to a homeless man, which he could not have done if he had just been preaching online.

Handing down judgment, the magistrate said: “We find the defendant not guilty on all charges.  We find that the defendant was outside and that he had a reasonable excuse as he was travelling to his place of work, as a worship leader.

“Whilst he was in a gathering and therefore in breach of regulation 7, however, the parties were together and were allowed to rely on articles 9, 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Their gathering was limited in duration, and they were entitled to gather for street evangelising.”

‘Take your ministry online’

This ruling comes despite another judge last month upholding a Covid fine against a Christian preacher who was out for the same reasons in London and over the same weekend as Joshua. Andrew Sathiyavan was told by a judge that he should have taken his ministry – which evangelises and supports the homeless in south London – online.

There have been calls for all 85,000 Covid fines issued during the pandemic to reviewed and even scrapped.

‘People need the hope of the gospel’

Responding to judgment, Joshua said: “At one point during the incident I was surrounded by four police officers, which was very intimidating. They treated me like a second-class citizen.

“I am a Christian minister of the gospel, which not so long ago was a treasured and respected vocation in the UK.

“During times of need, people need the hope of the gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ. That is what I do on a regular basis, I go to the streets and proclaim the hope and truth of the resurrection of Christ. I was doing this on Good Friday, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar to do this.

“I am very glad the magistrates threw the case out and that reason and justice prevailed.”

Inconsistencies from police and the judiciary

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “We are pleased that the court has acquitted Joshua, but are concerned that it even made it this far.

“We are seeing a lot of inconsistencies from police and the judiciary in these cases.

“Christians have been easy targets for police during the pandemic while other groups gathering in significant numbers have been favoured by the police.

“After being cautioned on Good Friday, Joshua continued to preach, even giving his own shoes to a homeless man and walking home barefoot. This is what Christian witness should have looked like during this time of crisis – ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs. Instead, we have seen Christian preachers and pastors, like Joshua, who have a heart for reaching those in great need in their communities fined, arrested and prosecuted for doing so.”

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