THE SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC is to defend a feminist campaigner charged with a hate crime in a court case at the centre of an international row over free speech.
The Edinburgh South West MP will defend Marion Millar, who has been accused of posting allegedly homophobic and transphobic material on social media in 2019 and 2020.
Ms Millar, 50, an accountant from Airdrie, is due to appear at Glasgow Sherifff Court on July 20, and could face two years in jail if convicted.
Ms Millar is a supporter of sex-based rights for women, and opposes easing transgender self-identification.
Her critics claim she is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or Terf.
She said she was “overwhelmed and in awe” of Ms Cherry and her talent, adding on Twitter: “Today is a good day”.
In a statement on Twitter, Ms Cherry said she was “returning to practice at the bar on a limited basis” and had accepted instructions to defend Ms Millar.
I’m pleased to announce I will be returning to practice at the bar on a limited basis & have accepted instructions through Beltrami & Co to conduct the defence of Marion Millar, a feminist activist charged with offences under s.127 of the Communications Act. https://t.co/kDA6Qhwfbw
— Joanna Cherry QC (@joannaccherry) June 24, 2021
Her client has been charged under section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act, which criminalises “grossly offensive” messages.
Ms Millar was charged earlier this month over social media posts that reportedly included a tweet showing a ribbon in the purple, white and green of the suffragette movement.
At the time, Ms Cherry, who wears a Covid mask in the same suffragette colours in the Commons, said she was “taking an interest” in the case as someone “who is passionate about #CivilLiberties & #WomensRights.”
She added the “#WomenWontWheest” hashtag Ms Millar helped popularise and is used by her supporters.
Ms Cherry, who returns to Arnot Manderson Advocates, told Scottish Legal News: “After my election to Parliament in 2015 the demands of my duties as a front bench spokesperson precluded me from accepting any instructions in my capacity as an advocate.
“Now that I no longer have those responsibilities, I hope to be able to take on human rights and public law cases from time to time, as my duties as a constituency MP allow.”
The QC was granted permission to practise by Dean of Faculty, Roddy Dunlop QC.
She said: “I am grateful to the Dean of Faculty for granting me a Dean’s dispensation to reflect the fact that my availability to be instructed will necessarily be limited by the requirement to be at Westminster regularly and to fulfil my duties to my constituents.
“In this respect I will be following in the tradition of fellow members of the Faculty of advocates including John Smith and Menzies Campbell who combined the occasional practice of law with their duties as MPs.”
She added: “I remain very committed to the law as an important instrument for upholding human rights and preventing discrimination and I am sure that there will be a synergy between the cases I take on and the values I have championed in elected politics, particularly respect for human rights, equality and the rule of law.”
After an interview lasting almost two hours at Coatbridge police station, Ms Millar, who has autistic twin boys, was bailed to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court on July 20.
She has not been charged under the recent Hate Crime Act passed at Holyrood, but under the Communications Act with a “hate crime aggravator”.
If, after receiving a report from the police, the Crown Office decide to prosecute Ms Millar, it promises to be a “cause célèbre” because of her national and international supporters.
The respected American legal analyst and attorney Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Chair of Public interest Law at George Washington University, said Ms Millar’s case is part of a “free speech fight brewing in Scotland”.
He added: “The effort by some to criminally charge advocates [of free speech] like Millar is to silence rather than to respond to opposing viewpoints.
“Such speech limitations tend to grow with time. Once groups taste the ability to silence others, it becomes an insatiable appetite for censorship and criminalization of speech.”
For Women Scotland, which opposes some gender reforms on the grounds they would erode sex-based rights, said Ms Cherry’s involvement was “wonderful news”.
It tweeted: “Women in Scotland and across UK have benefited from Joanna’s advocacy in Parliament, now they will again benefit from her advocacy in court.”