‘Pick-up artist’ wins appeal against convictions for threatening and abusive behaviour

Lord Turnbull
Lord Turnbull

A self-styled “pick-up artist” who was convicted of five minor sexual assault charges has succeeded in quashing all five convictions on appeal. 

Adnan Ahmed, who was originally tried on an indictment labelling 18 charges, argued that the trial sheriff, Lindsay Wood, had inappropriately cross-examined him and had erred in concluding that there was a significantly sexual aspect to his behaviour. 

The appeal was heard by the Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lord Malcolm and Lord Turnbull

Just “flirting” 

The appellant was convicted on charges of behaving in a threatening and abusive manner towards young women in Glasgow and Uddingston, contrary to Section 38(1) of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Each of the charges concerned unsolicited comments which he made to them, including asking their name, complimenting them on their appearance, and asking for their phone numbers. 

The complainers in the five charges were aged between 16 and 24, with the appellant being between 35 and 37 years old at the material times. None of the complainers welcomed the appellant’s approaches. They described themselves as feeling overwhelmed, or uncomfortable, shaken up, intimidated or stressed. 

Giving evidence in his own defence the appellant described the interaction with one of the complainers as “flirting”, and stated that he did not know when he approached the two youngest complainers that they were still in school. He testified that he had no intention of upsetting any of them. 

Following several no case to answer submissions from counsel for the appellant, he was acquitted of thirteen of the charges facing him. At the conclusion of the appellant’s evidence the sheriff explained that he wished to ask some questions in clarification. The sheriff questioned the accused for a period of 10 minutes at the end of the defence case, following which the parties addressed the jury. 

It was contended that the sheriff asked the appellant several unnecessary and irrelevant questions, the effect of which were to undermine the appellant’s credibility and give the impression of bias. Counsel for the appellant had sought to object to some of this questioning, but was told by the sheriff to sit down. 

On appeal, it was submitted that the sheriff’s questioning of the appellant constituted improper cross-examination that would have led an independent observer to conclude that the sheriff had formed an adverse view of his credibility. The sentence imposed was also challenged on the basis that the sheriff was wrong to have concluded there was a significant sexual aspect to his behaviour. 

It was also submitted that the sheriff had given inadequate directions to the jury in respect of mutual corroboration, and that the sheriff had erred in repealing the submission of no case to answer in respect of three of the charges. 

Hallmarks of cross-examination 

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Turnbull. Examining the transcript of the case to evaluate the sheriff’s conduct, he said: “Nothing which he raised with the appellant constituted clarification. The first question which he asked sought confirmation that the complainers were all strangers to the appellant. This had been at the heart of the case for the Crown.” 

He continued: “This was a process which had all the hallmarks of cross-examination designed to undermine the testimony of the witness, although we would observe that, in our opinion, it would be objectionable to ask a witness for comment of this sort and such evidence would be inadmissible.” 

On the effect of the sheriff’s conduct, he said: “The trial sheriff engaged in an exercise which could only be described as cross-examination. The informed and impartial observer would readily have concluded that the sheriff had formed an adverse view on the credibility of the appellant’s evidence. The result was a miscarriage of justice and the appeal against conviction on each charge must be upheld on this ground.” 

On counsel for the appellant’s attempt to object to the sheriff’s questions, he said: “Counsel was correct to object to the sheriff’s questioning when she did. The exercise which the sheriff was engaged in had already lacked any element of clarification and at the point when she rose to her feet the sheriff appeared to be in the process of arguing with the appellant.” 

He continued: “It is unacceptable for a judicial office holder to address a responsible practitioner by telling her to sit down. Such behaviour carries the risk of demeaning the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of both the legal profession and of the public.” 

On whether the sheriff had properly explained mutual corroboration, he said: “We are persuaded that by looking to the totality of the directions given it can be said that the essential elements of the doctrine were adequately conveyed to the jury. The appeal based on this ground must therefore be refused.” 

Regarding the no case to answer submissions for three of the charges, he said: “The sheriff does not explain what it was about any aspect of the appellant’s behaviour which he considered could be construed as threatening. In relation to charge 5, 6 and 18 there was no evidence of any threatening language, manner or tone. None of the comments contained any innuendo, sexual or otherwise.” 

He continued: “It does not seem to us that a polite conversational request or complement can be construed as threatening merely because it is uninvited or unwelcome.” 

For these reasons, the appeal succeeded on the basis of the first and third grounds of appeal. As the appeal against conviction was upheld, the issue of sentence did not require to be addressed. 

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

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