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Pope joke not intended as offensive, says QC

19 June 2007

Leading defence QC Donald Findlay yesterday appeared before the Faculty of Advocates' disciplinary tribunal to defend an allegation that he brought the Faculty into disrepute through his remarks during an after dinner speech in Northern Ireland.

Following the event in May 2005, about a month after the death of Pope John Paul II, Mr Findlay was reported in a newspaper as saying to the audience that it was very smoky in the venue, and asking "has another f****** pope died?"

Two individuals had written to the Faculty to complain that the remarks were sectarian and offensive, especially given the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland and in Larne, where the speech was made.

Before the tribunal Mr Findlay said it had not been his intention to cause offence to members of any religion, because the joke had been about the practice of blowing smoke out of a chimney on the election of a new pope, rather than Catholicism itself. He offered an unreserved apology to the two complainers.

Mr Findlay, who describes himself as an atheist, also claimed that under European human rights law he had the right to free speech.

The tribunal, headed by retired judge Lord Coulsfield, will issue its written decision at a later date. If it rules against Mr Findlay, it has power to impose a fine of up to £15,000, suspend him from practice, or expel him from the Faculty.