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Judge throws out ‘All Lives Splatter’ criminal case

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A policewoman who posted an online cartoon before last year’s Black Lives Matter march will not face a criminal prosecution, the Chief Justice ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice Narinder Hargun said the All Lives Splatter meme posted on Facebook and Instagram by Pc Barbi Bishop was “capable of being considered grossly offensive”.

But he said the officer’s fundamental right to freedom of expression was breached by the criminal case against her, as she already faced disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct which could lead to the loss of her job.

Victoria Greening, who represented Ms Bishop, said after the ruling: “We hope that these Supreme Court findings that the criminal proceedings were in breach of our client's fundamental rights to freedom of expression and that the posting of the material amounted to nothing more than a one-off, frivolous-in-nature incident that did not intend any serious consequences, brings an end to this saga, including any disciplinary proceedings against Ms Bishop.”

A Bermuda Police Service spokeswoman said: “The BPS is aware of the decision by the Supreme Court in this matter.

“However, police officers are subject to the standards of professional behaviour – on and off duty – in accordance with the Police (Conduct) Orders 2016.

“In this regard, the officer remains suspended from duty and the conduct process can now progress.”

Ms Bishop, from Sandys, was charged under the Electronic Communications Act with posting a “grossly offensive message” on social media on June 3 last year – four days before a Black Lives Matter march was due to take place in Hamilton.

She was alleged to have shared a cartoon of a person being hit by a vehicle which read: “All Lives Splatter. Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your a** out of the road”.

Ms Bishop denied the charge and the case was due to go before a Supreme Court jury.

But she launched civil proceedings against the Crown in March, claiming that the charge breached her constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and expression.

Mr Hargun said in his judgment, delivered at a Zoom hearing, that he was not satisfied that the criminal proceedings were necessary to “accomplish the legitimate aim being pursued” and ordered their dismissal.

The judge highlighted that the Black Lives Matter movement was dedicated to fighting racism and violence against black people, particularly in relation to police brutality.

He said the Bermuda march, attended by about 7,000 people, was sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a policeman but also “highlighted the historical and current divisions and disparities within Bermuda”.

The Chief Justice said it was “common knowledge” that the All Lives Splatter meme began circulating in 2017 and represented the death of a protester killed in the United States by an alleged neo-Nazi and white supremacist.

He did not accept Ms Bishop’s claim that the post was a “crude road safety advertisement/caution for the benefit of persons protesting” or that it only expressed a negative view of protesters.

Mr Justice Hargun said in Bermuda’s “multiracial and multicultural community” the meme could be considered as very offensive.

He added: “There is clearly the potential for offending people, as was indeed the case, and the potential for public disorder, as can be seen from the actions of those who attended the march and reaction from the group Social Justice Bermuda.”

He said there had been chants at the June 7 March for Ms Bishop to be sacked.

But he added the post was not part of a campaign to change views and could only be seen by the officer’s Facebook and Instagram friends.

He said Ms Bishop took the cartoon down “upon realising it was highly inflammatory”.

Mr Justice Hargun concluded that the criminal charge restricted Ms Bishop’s right to freedom of expression and that it could not be justified when she faced police disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct.

Ms Bishop declined to comment on the decision.

•It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Thousands took to the streets in June last year for a Black Lives Matter march through Hamilton (File photograph)
The Black Lives Matter protest held in June last year was attended by thousands of people. (Photograph supplied)