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Scotland's First Census Prosecution - Drop the charges, says SACC

Press Release from SACC
24 January 2012

The first person to be tried for non-cooperation with Scotland's 2011 census will be appearing in Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday. Barbara Dowling is pleading not guilty to offences under the Census Act 1920 and will be representing herself. She says she committed no crime. But she objected to the use of CACI - a defence contractor that had been involved in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq - to carry out key census work for the Registry Office of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland).

Human rights group SACC is supporting Barbara in her fight for justice and says that the Crown Office should drop all charges against people accused of not completing their census forms. Many thousands of Scots either ignored their census forms or returned them partially completed. Very few will be prosecuted.

Barbara Dowling is an anti-Trident campaigner and will be appearing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on Wednesday - the day before the census trial - for non-payment of a fine arising from a peaceful blockade of Faslane

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC said:

"It's completely unjust for a tiny handful of people to be dragged through the courts when everyone know that thousands of Scots binned their census forms. Barbara has been singled out for reasons that at best are arbitrary, and at worst look like blatant political victimisation. When the law is applied as selectively as that, it isn't a law at all, just a vehicle for official whims.

"But what really sticks in the gullet is that CACI has ducked the law altogether over it's involvement in abuses at Abu Ghraib. Former Iraqi prisoners have been trying for years to bring a lawsuit against CACI in the US, but CACI has blocked their efforts, claiming immunity as a US government contractor. And in Scotland in 2009 the Crown Office refused to prosecute CACI over Abu Ghraib. Their reasons were confused and technical. But almost no one except Scotland's Registrar General has ever suggested there's any lack of evidence. How can the Crown Office have the gall to prosecute Barbara and people like her while it ignores evidence of torture and other gross abuses?"

CACI UK, the firm contracted to carry out key work for the census, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based defence contractor CACI International.

From August 2003 until the early autumn of 2005 CACI International was contracted to provide "interrogation services" for the US Army at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While CACI staff were employed as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, prisoners were humiliated and tortured there by US military police. Photographs of the abuse shocked the world and led to the conviction of a number of low-ranking US soldiers by courts martial.

Former Abu Ghraib detainees say CACI directed and participated in their torture in various ways, including torture with electric shocks, beating, forced nakedness, forced participation in physical activities to the point of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, deprivation of food, deprivation of oxygen and torture with extremely hot and cold water.

CACI vigorously denies doing anything wrong, but is fighting hard to prevent US courts weighing the evidence. It is in any case undisputed that CACI staff interrogated people held without charge or trial at Abu Ghraib. Prisoners they questioned were deprived of human rights guaranteed in international norms.

Last year SACC urged people in Scotland to work for justice in the only way open to them. We urged them to refuse to cooperate with the census, saying:

"We encourage non-cooperation with the census. Most forms of non-cooperation are completely legal. You can withhold as much or as little cooperation as you wish. Illegal forms of non-cooperation - civil disobedience, in other words - are in our view a morally and politically reasonable response to this disgraceful census. But if you engage in civil disobedience, you do so on your own responsibility and at your own risk. We will, of course, provide whatever support we can, whatever form of non-cooperation you choose. "

When the census contract was awarded to CACI in 2008, solicitor advocate John Scott said:

"The Scottish government, and any government with a principled stance, should not be going near any firm with such associations, even indirectly. The government is opening itself up to significant and justified protest. Ordinary members of the public could refuse to have anything to do with the census. A boycott is something to be considered. It would be a legitimate step. We cannot ignore our principles."

Now it's time for the Crown Office to bring this charade to a close and drop the charges.

Notes for editors

  1. Barbara Dowling's trial over the census will be held The trial will be held from 10am in Court 16, Glasgow Sheriff Court Thursday 26 January.
  2. Barbara Dowling's fine enforcement hearing will be from 10am 25th January, Dumbarton Sheriff Court. The £500 fine was the outcome of a trial in October 2010 for blockading Faslane
  3. For More information on the Crown Office's 2009 decision not to prosecute CACI, see: Crown Office in jurisdiction flip-flop over torture claim_firm.html
  4. For more background about CACI and Scotland's census, see the EthicalCensus website maintained by SACC.