How does Islington Council respond to complaints about its decision to ban Atzmon?
The Islington Council issued a ‘detailed’ ‘stage one’ response to a complaint from a ticket holder(TH). The initial complaint, dated 19/12/18, expressed ‘disgust’ at the decision to ban Atzmon and a desire to see a music concert “that has no antisemitism in its show. ” In her first response, Lucinda Brown, venue business manager, had on 21/12/18 (the date of the concert) directed TH to the Council’s (non) statement on its site.
As of 11/2/19 Ms Brown claims she “had the opportunity to investigate the details” of the complaint and her “findings were as follows:” Contact the promoter and “raise a complaint.” Ms. Brown then finds that the complaint has been duly investigated at “stage one of Islington’s Complaint procedure and not upheld.” TH was given 30 days to reply.
The Council claims to be a service organisation. What service did TH get? What might Ms. Brown have ‘investigated’? Did she herself check with the promoters to see if refunds were available? Since the Council itself had prevented Atzmon from playing, a simple “I’m sorry” might have been more satisfying than the insulting pretence that a refund would be forthcoming if TH were simply to “raise a complaint.” Why did Ms. Brown send this answer at all? Does sending a nonsensical jargon filled note help to feign service?
London Councils, the parent organisation of Islington Council provides for a three step complaint procedure in which the complainant is entitled at each successive phase to have his appeal reexamined by an employee higher up the council ladder. Mr. Atzmon’s appeals were handled first by Martin Bevis, the assistant director of Financial Operations & Customer Service and then by Ian Adams, the director of Financial Operations and Customer Service . Mr. Atzmon was not informed of or offered the third level of review to the Corporate Complaints Officer of the London Council. The Council’s policy provides that a complaint will only be reviewed at Stage 3 if “at the discretion…there is a clear reason for dissatisfaction….or that any remedy proposed is insufficient.” Atzmon was never given the chance to make a case for a third appeal. There is even a fourth step available, if appeals one-three fail to satisfy the complainant, he may bring the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman at the London Councils.
Why was Atzmon not fully informed of his rights of review?
Atzmon would seem to be included in the Council’s mission statement, which reads as follows: “We’re determined to make Islington fairer. To create a place where everyone, whatever their background, has the opportunity to reach their potential and enjoy a good quality of life.” Did they add, ‘if we agree with their opinions?’
The Council made its decision weighing two competing interests. First, the rights of Mr Atzmon under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act of 1998 “to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Article 10 restricts this right as follows: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law…”
Article 10 makes clear that the right to free speech is not subject to a balancing test unless the speech violates a law. Atzmon, having crossed no legal limits in his speech, was not subject to speech restrictions. Indeed, the ban had to do with prior speech, no one alleged that Atzmon would speak while playing the saxophone at a rock concert.
The council referred to and quickly dismissed Atzmon’s rights under Article 10, citing article 10 rights to earn a living (which is not a provision of Article 10) and deciding that Article 10 rights are subservient to the Council’s duty under S 149 of the Equality Act of 2010. Are individual liberties properly curtailed by a council acting under a general non discrimination mandate? What if the Council thought it could make Islington safer for a protected group by bursting into homes instead of banning employment, would this be a legitimate override of personal freedom?
The Council claimed that its ban was necessitated by the law it found controlling, “the legal duty placed on the Council by s.149 of the Equality Act 2010.” But does the equality act even mandate the Council’s actions?
S 149 part 1 states the general purpose of the rule: that a public authority must perform its duties with due regard to three factors; a. to eliminate discrimination, b to provide for equal opportunity and, c to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
Section (5) of 149 explains how to ‘foster good relations’ as required by section 1(c). “Having due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to (a)tackle prejudice, (b)promote understanding.”
Mr Bevis and Mr. Adams ‘found’ that Atzmon’s views are well known and disliked in the Jewish community. But both men went beyond this. Acting not as lawyers, judges (or may I assume scholars of Jewish identity politics) they pronounced Atzmon’s comments “to be, [regarded as] at the lowest, provocative and distasteful, and, at the highest, anti-Semitic and racist by many, particularly those in the Jewish community.”
Based on their personal (and not legal) reading of materials provided by opponents of Atzmon, the Council concluded that good relations with the Jewish community would be harmed by Atzmon’s appearance. Tickets to the concert cost money and the musicians were known. Were many Jews likely to find offence also likely to pay to attend a rock Christmas concert with Gilad Atzmon?
Further, while some may have cheered the Council’s choice to disregard Atzmon’s Section 10 rights, how did his banning help to foster good relations between Jews and others? What about the ‘others’ who merely wanted to go to the concert? What groups did the Council integrate with the Jews to foster good relations?
Or does ‘fostering good relations’ mean banning any speech any protected group objects to?