Censure of councillor for “sarcastic, lampooning and disrespectful” blog breached his free speech rights

7 May 2012 by

Calver, R (on the application of) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin) – Read judgment

The decision to censure a Welsh councillor for comments on his blog was a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression, the High Court has ruled. This right requires a broad interpretation of what counts as “political speech” – even when the speech is sarcastic and mocking.

Lewis Malcolm Calver is a councillor on the Manorbier Community Council and Pembrokeshire County Council and the owner/writer of the at www.manorbier.com blog. These proceedings arose when Mr Calver was censured by the Standards Committee for Pembrokeshire County Council for comments or articles on his blog, which criticised the running of Manorbier Council.

Regulation of councillors’ conduct

Councillors’ conduct is subject to regulation through the Local Government Act 2000 (“LGA”), which introduced Standards Committees. The functions of these Committees are “promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct by the members and co-opted members of the authority” (s. 54 LGA).

These standards are maintained largely through the Codes of Conduct, a model version of which exists specifically for Welsh Councils. The Manorbier Code of Conduct requires members:

not [to] conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.

And, when acting in the role of councillor, to

show respect and consideration for others.

The Parliamentary Service Ombudsman for Wales (“PSOW”) is allowed to investigate breaches of the Code of Conduct and to refer cases to the Standards Committee. This regulation mirrors that for England, though the Codes are different.

The offending comments

Mr Calver’s blog contained various comments (set out at para 33 of the judgment) criticising the conduct and operation of Manorbier Council in general and individual councillors in particular. The background to these criticisms is the genuine concern about Manorbier Council that existed, which had prompted a Standards Committee ruling against one of the councillors, as well as a general breakdown in relationships between councillors.

It was during investigations into Manorbier’s councillors that the PSOW discovered Mr Calver’s blog. The Standards Committee decided that various comments breached either one or both of the requirements of the Code of Conduct set out above. Mr Calver appealed to the Adjudication Panel for Wales, on grounds that included violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression), but this was unanimously dismissed. Mr Calver then judicially reviewed this dismissal.

High Court steps in

The judgment of Mr Justice Beatson is thorough in dealing with the facts of the case, but its wider value lies in its discussion of the “underlying principles” of the right to free expression from, §39 onwards.

Beatson J first discusses the common law position that predated the Human Rights Act’s enshrinement of Article 10 into UK law. The important feature highlighted here is that the common law required restrictions on free expression to be explicit, not to be inferred from ambiguous words of an enactment. However, the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) is clear: Beatson J noted that even this common law approach developed in large part because of the UK’s ratification of the ECHR.

Another principle discussed is the question of balancing rights. Beatson J states that there is no clear prescription from previous cases as to the priority of freedom of expression over other rights – “the relevant legal principles in this area do not provide the Panel or the court with bright lines… they lead it to a process of balancing a number of interests” (§46).

This balancing exercise is fact-sensitive. Previous cases, such as those that concerned challenges to decisions of the Adjudication Panel for England, are relevant but not determinative. As a simple and common sense guide, Beatson J states that the more egregious the conduct, the easier it is for the court to conduct the balancing exercise and decide the infringement is justified (§49).

Finally, Beatson J emphasised that “freedom of expression includes the right to say things which “right thinking people” consider dangerous or irresponsible or which shock or disturb” (§55), citing numerous authorities in support. It isn’t just friendly, inoffensive speech that is protected: Sedley LJ’s statement (in Redmond-Bates v DPP (1999) 163 JP 789 that “freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having” was cited amongst others to this effect.

Linked to this view was the recognition that there can be “gradations in the value of free speech” (§58) – that some types of speech are more worthy than others. This means that political speech is afforded an “enhanced protection” and that politicians acting in their public capacity should “possess a thicker skin and greater tolerance than ordinary members of the public”. But not everything a politician says is political (see Livingstone v Adjudication Panel for England [2006] EWHC 2533 (Admin) §36 where it was judged that the then-London mayor Ken Livingstone’s comments were not expressing political opinion, but were instead to be seen as simply as the offensive abuse of a journalist). Despite this, Beatson J makes it clear that there is to be a broad interpretation of what counts as political speech.

In applying these principles, the judge decided that Mr Calver’s comments were “sarcastic and mocking”; the Panel was justified in concluding they involved public mocking of colleagues, and so in principle they breached the Code of Conduct by bringing Mr Calver’s office into disrepute. This finding would clearly restrict Mr Calver’s right to freedom of speech.

However, the infringement was not justified. First, the Panel was wrong not to consider the speech as political, as the majority of comments referred to the way the Council meetings were run and recorded. Secondly, the Panel did not consider that politicians, including local councillors, must have “thicker skins” than members of the general public. Though the aims of upholding standards of conduct and confidence in local government were clearly legitimate, the restriction was not a proportional one in pursuance of this aim. Both the common law and the Human Rights Act 1998 means the Code can and should have been interpreted so as to mean Mr Calver’s comments were not a breach.


This case bolsters the protection of politicians who blog, in certain circumstances,  to criticise and offend. The protection of course is not available for all offensive comments. In this case, a local councillor criticised fellow councillors and the way council meetings were run. He did so sarcastically and rudely. But the enhanced protection afforded to political expression covers political comment expressed in a rude manner, and even to the most local level of politics.

The case may have an impact for many. Many local and national politicians regularly blog and tweet, and they will be relieved to know that this can involve “robust and even offensive statements” (paragraph 83) and may even “include some degree of lampooning of those who place themselves in public office” (84).

And of course commentary on political affairs is not limited to politicians. Mr Justice Beatson’s judgment not only draws attention to existing case law on protection of political speech, but gives guidance on how restrictions on free speech – for the clearly legitimate aim of upholding public standards in government – should be interpreted, so as to avoid unlawful infringement on the right to freedom of expression.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts


  1. Old Grumpy,
    While this judgement provides some clarity it doesn’t address the problem that the protection given to “political expression” is greater for ordinary members of the public than for local politicians subject to the Code of Conduct.
    Traditionally, qualified privilege has tilted the balance the other way. (Horrocks v Lowe)

  2. ObiterJ says:

    The Standards Board will be abolished by the Localism Act 2011. This announcement by Andrew Stunell MP said it all about standards committees:


  3. Stephen says:

    The mere fact of this case going to law illustrates how perilous the right of free thought and expression has become in recent months. If commentators were prohibited from ridiculing politicians and powerful organisations we would be close to Nazi style or Stalinesque oppression.

    It is deeply worrying that the ECHR only provides qualified protection for free expression. The convention really does need to be modernised so as to strengthen individual rights if it is to be an effective shield against tyrants..

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Family Family life fatal accidents act Fertility FGM Finance fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Germany Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection hammerton v uk happy new year Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII hereditary disorder Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interim remedies international international criminal court international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College koran burning Labour Lady Hale LASPO Law Pod UK Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence limestone pavements lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Sumption Lord Taylor luftur rahman MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: