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Tim Bonner: Judges, bias and hunting

A row about a judge who passed surprisingly lenient sentences on three women who displayed parachute images at a demonstration three days after the 7 October Hamas atrocities would hardly seem to be a rural issue. However, District Judge Tan Ikram was involved in another case in which it seems his personal views might have influenced his judgment when he convicted Mark Hankinson of encouraging illegal hunting. 


In the latest case, District Judge Tan Ikram decided that whilst the images displayed by the three pro-Palestinian protestors ‘crossed a line’, they somehow did not suggest support for Hamas and he let them off with a conditional discharge. His judgement was brought further into question because he had liked a post on social media which read: “Israeli terrorist both in the United Kingdom, the United States, and of course Israel… you cannot hide – justice will be coming for you”. 


The story resonated with me because I heard Judge Ikram deliver another extraordinary judgment three years ago in Westminster Magistrates’ Court. That was in the case of Mr Hankinson who was being prosecuted for encouraging people to commit the criminal offence of hunting with dogs. Despite the fact that in acres of video transcripts Mr Hankinson had never suggested that people should break the law, and that the best the prosecution could even suggest was that he was encouraging them to cover up an offence which had probably never happened, Judge Ikram was quite certain that Mr Hankinson was guilty and said that he “simply did not find him credible”. 


Not satisfied with that, he also launched an extraordinary attack on a number of other individuals whose words the prosecution relied on to condemn Mr Hankinson, despite them not having any charges brought against them or any right to reply. He even seriously and prejudicially misquoted one of them. This is not hindsight. I was furious at the time and we even explored the option of an official complaint to the Office of Judicial Complaints. Judge Ikram went on to fine Mr Hankinson £1,000, with £2,500 costs which looks even harsher alongside the slap on the wrist of a conditional discharge which he issued to the three terrorist sympathisers.


Before you conclude that I am merely taking the opportunity to kick Judge Ikram when he is down, Mark Hankinson’s story did not finish in Westminster Magistrates’ Court. He bravely appealed his conviction and nine months later in Southwark Crown Court he was cleared of the charge by a more senior judge sitting with two lay magistrates. Judge Perrins’ ruling in the appeal was quite straightforward. He noted that Mr Hankinson “made express reference to use trail hunting as a way of simulating traditional hunting and how the practise of trail hunting has allowed the sport to maintain its traditions and practices” and concluded that “the appellant’s words in the first webinar do not amount to clear evidence of encouraging illegal hunting”. 


Neither did Judge Perrins feel the need to drag through the mud the names of others connected to the case, but never charged. How could two courts come to such entirely different conclusions? Judge Ikram stands charged with allowing his personal opinions to influence his judgment in the case of pro-Palestinian protestors. From what I saw in the Hankinson case I would not be at all surprised if he held personal opinions about hunting too.

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