Christian activists have lost a High Court bid for a ruling that London Mayor Boris Johnson was personally responsible for an improper and "politically-motivated" ban on a controversial gay advert on buses. Campaign group Core Issues Trust (CIT) accused him of an abuse of power and imposing the ban for "the nakedly political purpose of currying favour with gay lobby groups" and boosting his re-election campaign in 2012.
The Trust advert that never made it to the sides of buses in the capital read: "Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!" It was meant to be a response to posters promoted by lesbian and gay campaigners Stonewall that said: "Some people are gay. Get over it!". Those did appear on buses.
But CIT's judicial review action, brought over Transport for London's April 2012 decision not to allow the group's advertisment to appear on the outside of its buses, was dismissed by a judge in London today. Announcing her conclusions, Mrs Justice Lang declared: "Mr Johnson was not motivated by an improper purpose, namely, to advance his Mayoral election campaign."
The CIT advert triggered protests and was condemned by the homosexual community as offensive and psychologically damaging because it suggested gays were "second class citizens" who could be "cured". CIT said the advert was meant to highlight the fact that "people can change unwanted homosexual feelings".
The advert was banned on April 12 2012, a day before the Mayor addressed an election rally organised by Stonewall. At a hearing in March last year, Mrs Justice Lang declared the banning order on the CIT poster lawful. She also ruled that the Mayor, in his capacity as chair of TfL, was entitled to be involved in the decision-making process leading up to the order, though it would have been improper for him to use the situation to advance his re-election campaign.
She said "such unlawfulness has not been established on the evidence". CIT then obtained access to further emails through a Freedom of Information request to the Greater London Authority (GLA) and claimed they did provide evidence of improper purpose. The Court of Appeal ordered Mrs Justice Lang to reopen the case to investigate the issue further.
During the re-opened hearing, Paul Diamond, for CIT, submitted to her that the emails revealed that the Mayor had acted for "the naked political purpose of currying favour with gay lobbying groups" and to secure re-election. Mr Diamond said Mr Johnson had made his decision and both the GLA and TfL then "accommodated his views and political agenda".
Nigel Pleming QC, appearing for both the Mayor and TfL, rejected CIT's accusations. The decision not to permit the adverts was made by Vernon Everitt, TfL's managing director for marketing and communications - not by Mr Johnson. The QC told the judge she might be getting the impression that "only the Mayor was concerned" about the advert, but it had created "a storm of protest" and - independent of the Mayor's views - TfL had sufficient material "for Mr Everitt to make the decision he said he made".
Giving a summary of her conclusions today Mrs Justice Lang said: "Mr Johnson was the chair of the board of TfL, and, in his capacity as Mayor, he had statutory power to issue written instructions or directions to TfL. He did not issue either a written or verbal instruction or direction to TfL on this occasion. TfL made the decision not to run the advertisements. Prior to making that decision, Mr Everitt of TfL requested the views of the Mayor's office and Mr Johnson communicated a strongly-expressed opinion that the advertisements were offensive and should not appear on London buses.
"Mr Everitt of TfL was strongly influenced by Mr Johnson's opinion when he made the decision not to run the advertisements. Mr Johnson was not motivated by an improper purpose, namely, to advance his Mayoral election campaign. For these reasons the claim is dismissed."
In a statement, CIT said the ruling confirmed "that the British establishment is no longer a guardian of freedom of speech nor of conscience". Director Dr Mike Davidson said: "At no point in the extensive mayoral pre-election media coverage capturing the bus campaign - except when a legal challenge was launched more recently - did Mr Johnson disavow the impression that the decision to pull our advertisement was his own rather than that of Transport for London, which he now insists.
"Our advert simply mirrored Stonewall's in attesting that some individuals have left homosexuality and no longer identify as 'gay', despite once having done so." Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported CIT, said the ruling "marks a dark day for freedom of expression".
Howard Carter, general counsel at TfL, said: "As we have always maintained, and the court has ruled, it was our decision not to run the Core Issues Trust adverts and there was no improper purpose behind our decision. Our decision was justified."