Freedom of Expression


Back to basics: why a public authority can’t be an HRA victim

17 October 2013 by

SLMRightToProtestFrontSmall.previewDavid Mead, in an interesting post – here – about “publicness” in section 6 of the Human Rights Act, looks at a case in which the Olympic Delivery Agency got an injunction against protesters: Olympic Delivery Authority v Persons Unknown . The ODA was a public authority, and the protesters were advancing defences under Articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association). Arnold J dismissed the defences on the basis that these rights needed to be balanced against the ODA’s rights to property under A1P1

As Mead points out, the judge was probably wrong to do so. On the face of it, the ODA had no rights under the Convention, under A1P1 or otherwise, because it was a public authority, and was likely to be acting as such in its protester-clearing role. One can perhaps save the judge’s blushes, by a slightly different route. The right of free speech under Article 10(1) has to be balanced against the protection of the rights of others under Article 10(2), and the latter would cover the ODA’s property rights which it was enforcing.

But the more fundamental question is why public authorities (think local authorities or NHS Trusts) cannot complain that they are HRA victims. After all, they can be unfairly dumped on by central government, can be lied about, can have their finances cut, their functions or their premises taken away (hospital unit closures), can receive an unfair trial, and ultimately lose their “life” in some governmental reorganisation.

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Turkish block on Google site breached Article 10 rights, rules Strasbourg

16 January 2013 by

google-sign-9YILDIRIM v. TURKEY – 3111/10 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2074 – Read judgment

In the case of Yildrim v Turkey the European Court of Human Rights decided that a Court order blocking access to “Google Sites” in Turkey was a violation of Article 10.  The measure was not “prescribed by law” because it was not reasonably foreseeable or in accordance with the rule of law.  The judgment is available only in French.

He owned and ran a website hosted by the Google Sites service, on which he published his academic work and his opinions on various matters.  On 23 June 2009 the Denizli Criminal Court of First Instance ordered the blocking of an Internet site whose owner had been accused of insulting the memory of Atatürk. The order was issued as a preventive measure in the context of criminal proceedings against the site’s owner.

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Permanent injunction against anti-vivisection protestors

12 December 2012 by

harlan-investigationHarlan Laboratories UK L & Another v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and others [2012] EWHC 3408 (QB) – read judgment

The High Court has granted a medical testing laboratory a final injunction against anti-vivisectioners protesting outside their premises. 

Harlan laboratories breed animals for medical and clinical research purposes. The applicants’ harassment claim included assertions that the respondent anti-vivisection groups had verbally abused those entering and leaving its premises, blocked and surrounded vehicles entering and leaving the premises in a threatening manner and trespassed on Harlan’s property. They had also photographed Harlan’s employees and recorded their vehicle registration details. Interim injunctions had been granted restraining, inter alia, where and how often the respondents could demonstrate outside of Harlan’s premises.

The issues  in this application were whether the applicants were entitled to summary judgment on their harassment claim and whether the court should grant a permanent injunction pursuant to s.3(3) of the 1997 Protection Against Harassment Act. The applicants also applied for a permanent injunction under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
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The only people really not allowed to mention the Holocaust

13 November 2012 by

Peta Deutschland v Germany  (No. 43481/09) – read judgment

Referring to the concentration camps has become an offence on a par with holocaust denial, it seem, in certain contexts.

In 2004 the applicant animal welfare association planned to start an advertising campaign under the head “The Holocaust on your plate”. The intended campaign, which had been carried out in a similar way in the United States of America, consisted of a number of posters, each of which bore a photograph of concentration camp inmates along with a picture of animals kept in mass stocks, accompanied by a short text. One of the posters showed a photograph of emaciated, naked concentration camp inmates alongside a photograph of starving cattle under the heading “walking skeletons”. Other posters showed a photograph of piled up human dead bodies alongside a photograph of a pile of slaughtered pigs under the heading “final humiliation” and of rows of inmates lying on stock beds alongside rows of chicken in laying batteries under the heading “if animals are concerned, everybody becomes a Nazi”. Another poster depicting a starving, naked male inmate alongside a starving cattle bore the title “The Holocaust on your plate” and the text “Between 1938 and 1945, 12 million human beings were killed in the Holocaust. As many animals are killed every hour in Europe for the purpose of human consumption”.

Three individuals filed a request with the Berlin Regional Court to be granted an injunction ordering the applicant association to desist from publishing or from allowing the publication of seven specified posters via the internet, in a public exhibition or in any other form. They submitted that the intended campaign was offensive to them as survivors of the holocaust and violated their human dignity.
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Why we allow dissent – by our judges

14 October 2012 by

Why do judges disagree and publish their disagreements when cases get decided? After all, the Cabinet does not do so (openly at least), and our FTSE-100 companies do not generally do so, when their executives propose a merger or launch a new product.  Surely, judicial dissent is a recipe for diminishing the authority of the majority answer, and an invitation to self-indulgence on the part of the minority to re-fight lost and irrelevant battles.

Lord Kerr has given a very persuasive answer to both concerns in the Birkenhead lecture on 8 October 2012. But it is worth thinking about the alternative way of doing things, before making up your mind on whether the current way is the best way.

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Alien poster campaign’s anti-religious message

22 July 2012 by

Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland [2012] ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) – read judgment

This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.

The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.

At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message;  one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”.
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Police denied TV footage of Dale Farm evictions

24 May 2012 by

BSkyB and another, R(on the application of) v Chelmsford Crown Court [2012] EWHC 1295 (Admin) – read judgment

The police failed to satisfy the court that their need for footage taken by TV organisations was likely to be of substantial value to criminal investigations and therefore would be a justified interference with the rights of a free press under Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention.

Sky, BBC, ITN etc. succeeded in quashing an order to produce of 100+ hours of video footage to Essex Police of  the Dale Farm protesters on the grounds that there were no “reasonable grounds” for believing that the footage of over 100 hours included material likely to be of substantial value to the investigation.

Background facts

After the Dale Farm evictions and the disorder that ensued, the police sought an order for the recordings taken by the claimant organisations to help identify those who had committed indictable offences when attempting to prevent the eviction.  They submitted that it was necessary, not least for the prevention of similar disorder on future occasions, to identify as many as possible of those who committed indictable offences in attempting to frustrate the lawful enforcement procedures. Production orders were duly made by Chelmsford Crown Court, defendant in this action.
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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.


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Axel Springer and Von Hannover: Grand Chamber victory for media – Inforrm

7 February 2012 by

The media were successful in both the judgments handed down this morning by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.  The judgments made it clear that the right to privacy has to be carefully balanced against contribution which a publication makes to a debate of general interest.  In both cases, taking account of the nature of the individuals involved and the publications the right to freedom of expression prevailed over the right to privacy. 

The judgments demonstrate the need for a careful balancing exercise in privacy cases.   Both cases involved “popular journalism” and show that,  even in this area, privacy is not a “trump card”.  The judgments will be welcomed by the media as showing that the Court of Human Rights remains sensitive to the need to protect its freedom of expression.

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Everything’s free in America (copyrighted material not included)

18 January 2012 by

The Government of the United States of America -v- O’Dwyer, Westminster Magistrates’ Court – Read judgment

It seems appropriate, on the day when Wikipedia shut down for 24 hours to protest against US anti-piracy legislation, to talk about piracy (in the copyright sense) and what role human rights law has to play in the perpetual battle against it.

It is a topic that polarises, with some considering piracy to be no more moral than any other theft, and others seeing those who commit piracy offences as fighting for freedom of expression and liberal copyright laws. In the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a young man who is accused of setting up a website which breaches US copyright law and who is facing extradition to the US for trial, he attempted to block his extradition by relying on a combination of human rights and other objections relating to the manner and circumstances surrounding the request.


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Is internet access a human right?

11 January 2012 by

A recent United Nations Human Rights Council report examined the important question of whether internet access is a human right.  

Whilst the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.

But not everyone agrees with the United Nations’ conclusion. Vinton Cerf, a so-calledfather of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:

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“British soldiers go to hell” and free speech

21 February 2011 by

Munim Abdul and Others v Director of Public Prosecutions [2011] EWHC 247 (Admin) – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled that prosecution of a group of people who had shouted slogans, including, “burn in hell”, “baby killers” and “rapists” at a parade of British soldiers, was not a breach of their right to freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Five men were convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby (contrary to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986). The men launched an appeal, raising amongst other things the question of whether the decision to prosecute them for shouting slogans and waving banners close to where the soldiers and other members of the public were was compatible with Article 10.


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“Blackmail” costs system violated Daily Mirror’s freedom of expression rights in Naomi Campbell case

18 January 2011 by

MGN Limited v The United Kingdom – (Application no. 39401/04) Read judgment / press release / our analysis

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK’s controversial no-win-no-fee costs system violated the Daily Mirror’s freedom of expression rights after it was forced to pay model Naomi Campbell’s legal fees after a 2004 House of Lords judgment.

The European Court attacked the present costs system, and in particular success fees, using the findings of the recent review by Lord Justice Jackson, which the government intends to mostly implement. It held that the costs system often amounted to the “blackmail” of defendants, and has had an unjustified chilling effect on the press.

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Analysis: Woolas loses election court challenge, court clarifies constitutional role

3 December 2010 by

R (on the application of Philip James Woolas) and The Parliamentary Election Court [2010] EWHC 3169 (Admin) – Read judgment / press summary

Phil Woolas has lost his appeal by way of judicial review of the decision to strip him of his election victory in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election. He has said he will not appeal the decision.

Mr Woolas had to first convince the Administrative Court, which handles judicial reviews of the decisions of public bodies, that it had jurisdiction to hear the claim. He won on this point. However, once it had accepted it could hear the case, the Administrative court went on to uphold most of the decision of the Election Court.

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Anonymity ain’t here anymore for Take That’s Howard Donald

18 November 2010 by

Adakini Ntuli v Howard Donald [2010] EWCA Civ 1276 – Read judgment

Take That’s Howard Donald has failed to maintain an injunction against the press reporting details of his relationship with a former girlfriend. He had originally sought the injunction after receiving a text from the woman saying: “Why shud I continue 2 suffer financially 4 the sake of loyalty when selling my story will sort my life out?”

‘Superinjunctions’ have received a great deal of press coverage recently, not least because they are usually granted in cases involving celebrities’ private lives. They are injunctions, usually in privacy or breach of confidence cases, which prevent not only the publication of certain matters, but even the publication of the existence of legal proceedings. These cases are of particular interest because of the competing ECHR rights in play: Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression.

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