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Pastor Paul Song/Christian Concern
Pastor Paul Song/Christian Concern
UK News

Christian chaplain banned from prisons for a decade is turned down for judicial review by the High Court

by Premier Journalist

A volunteer Christian chaplain banned from prisons for ten years for "failure to adhere to the expected requirements of a chaplaincy volunteer" has been denied a judicial review by the High Court.

Pastor Paul Song had taken legal action against Justice Secretary Robert Buckland in the High Court and in a county court.

Pastor Song, 51, was handed the decade-long ban by London's Prison Group following an investigation into a published interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2018 where the pastor spoke about what he called "Islamic extremism" dominating HMP Brixton.

Pastor Song, who has given nearly 20 years of service to the prison, said in the interview he feared for his safety and had been assaulted and racially abused by Islamic inmates.

He also described an incident where a group of inmates took over the prison's Christian chapel and went on to praise the killers of soldier Lee Rigby.

The decade-long ban was the second ban the pastor has received.

First Ban

In 2015, the serving Anglican chaplain left HMP Brixton leaving a position that was filled by head chaplain Imam Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed.

According to Christian Concern, Pastor Song was told by Imam Mohammed that his mainstream Evangelical courses, including the Alpha course, were "too extreme". Pastor Song reluctantly stopped teaching the courses.

Following a visit to the jail in January 2017, prisons inspector Peter Clarke found high levels of violence and reported that "a third of prisoners felt unsafe". It was also noted that the jail had been without a full-time Anglican chaplain for 18 months. Mr Clarke said one should be recruited 'without delay,' as reported by Christian Concern.

In August 2017, after Pastor Song had an exchange with an inmate about Islam and Christianity, according to Christian Concern, he received an email from Imam Mohammed, which said the pastor no longer had permission to speak to any prisoners at HMP Brixton and had to ask for prior permission before making a visit.

After unsubstantiated allegations that he had called the inmate a "terrorist" and threatened Imam Mohammed, which Pastor Song vehemently denies, he was permanently banned.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Pastor Song took the Ministry of Justice to the High Court, to challenge the ban and to clear his name.

In May 2018, Pastor Song agreed to stop the proceedings after an independent investigation was promised by the Ministry of Justice.

43,000 people signed a petition calling for Pastor Song's reinstatement. 

Carried out by Sara Pennington, a governor from another prison, the subsequent review concluded that his exclusion was "not reasonable" and recommended an immediate reinstatement.

Pastor Song met Brixton's governor, David Bamford, on 16th August 2018, who assured him that he would now be allowed back into the prison with full privileges. 

On 15th September 2018, the Mail on Sunday published a front-page article covering Pastor Song's experiences in the prison and how he had been vindicated.

Second Ban

Pastor Song formally agreed to drop his High Court case on 20th September 2018, the same day he was notified by Governor Bamford that he would now be suspended because of the interview he had given to the Mail on Sunday.

Mr Bamford told Pastor Song that there would be an investigation of what he had said in the interview, including his "compromising of the safety of staff and prisoners by disclosing information to the press without permission" as well as "any breach of confidentiality" and "possible anti-Muslim comments."

On 3rd May 2019, following an investigation, London's Prison Group Director banned Pastor Song, not only from HMP Brixton, but from all prisons for 10 years for "failure to adhere to the expected requirements of a chaplaincy volunteer".

On 12th January, Pastor Song brought a claim to the High Court on nine grounds, including victimization, breach of public sector equality duty and for breach of his rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Court of Human Rights. 

Lawyers representing Mr Buckland said Pastor Song had "behaved inappropriately" more than once and decisions taken were fair and neither irrational or unlawful.

Tim Dieppe from Christian Concern told Premier Pastor Song was disappointed the judicial review was declined by High Court Judge, Mr Justice Goose:

"Well, he's disappointed and upset. And he feels that he's been treated very unfairly, and that it's completely unreasonable for him to be banned for 10 years, a long time for just speaking the truth and telling people what's happened.

"So, yeah, he's upset, too. He thinks it's completely wrong. I think he's quite shocked at the state of the prison system, and the way that this could happen to him in a country like Britain, which is ostensibly a Christian country, and yet here he is the Christian pastor being thrown out of the prison."

Christian Concern hope that Pastor Song will have better luck at the county court level:

"The judge decided, 'I'm not going to give you permission.' And one of the reasons he decided that is, actually that there is a county court case, which he is also pursuing, which will continue, although that will take longer to come through the court. We thought there was a good case for judicial review on this as well, for various reasons. We still think that, but the judges declined that, but we hope that at the county court, there will be some redress for him about this at that point," Dieppe added.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said in a statement: "The decision to ban Pastor Song from all prisons for 10 years has sent a chilling message to anyone prepared to expose wrong-doing and corruption in our public institutions. 

"Removing him immediately after the prison authorities had confirmation that he would drop the high court legal case against his original removal, was cruel, underhand and unlawful. 

"This is a case that exposes the disturbing rise and influence of Islamic extremism and intimidation of Christians in our prisons. The public must know the truth, and those being impacted by it must be free to tell it without fear.

"Christian ministry in prisons has a long history, and its presence is essential for the rehabilitation and transformation of lives. Paul's work has led to many prisoners in Brixton turning their lives around, and so it is shocking that prisoners who are desperate for a new way of life should now be prevented from being supported by him," she added.

Speaking to PA after Tuesday's ruling, Pastor Song said Mr Justice Goose's ruling had given him "clarity":

"I am looking forward to bringing it to the county court where the full extent of Islamic extremism at Brixton prison and the actions of the authorities which led to my removal will be exposed," he said after Tuesday's hearing.

"I was deeply shocked and hurt when I received the letter telling me that I would be banned for 10 years from doing what I have been called to do through my Christian faith.

"After 20 years of service supporting vulnerable inmates at HMP Brixton, I have been severely punished for exposing the truth."

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