freedom of speech


Censorship or justified Concern?

24 May 2016 by

Southampton_1912501bIR(Ben-Dor & Ors) v The University of Southampton [2016] EWHC 953 (Admin) (read judgment)

Mrs Justice Whipple dismissed one claim for judicial review, and refused permission to bring a further claim, in respect of decisions made by Southampton University regarding a proposed conference on the legality of the existence of Israel under international law. She held that the University had lawfully withdrawn its permission to hold the conference in April 2015, and refused permission to challenge the University’s subsequent decision to require the conference organisers to meet the conference’s security costs as a condition of allowing the conference to take place at a later date. The conference organisers had claimed that both decisions represented an unlawful interference with their Article 10 right to free expression and Article 11 right to free assembly.
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NI Judge acquits Pastor of “gross offence” against Muslims

17 February 2016 by

MolanaDPP v McConnell [2016] NIMag (5 January 2016)

Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī , 13th Century Persian Islamic scholar and poet)

These words were the last in the ruling by DJ McNally in the Belfast county court, acquitting Pastor McConnell of grossly offending Muslims in a sermon that had been delivered in church but also transmitted over the internet. The Pastor had declared from the pulpit the there were more and more Muslims “putting the Koran’s hatred of Christians and Jews alike into practice”, and the sermon had continued in a similar vein.
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Stop Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 incompatible with Article 10

21 January 2016 by

David MirandaDavid Miranda -v- Secretary of State for the Home Department  [2016] EWCA Civ 6 – read judgment.

On Tuesday the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on David Miranda’s detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, while upholding the lawfulness of the detention in the immediate case, ruled that the stop powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act lack sufficient legal safeguards to be in line with Article 10.

by David Scott

See RightsInfo’s coverage here. For our coverage of the High Court’s previous decision see here, and on his original detention here and here.

The Case

Mr Miranda, the spouse of then-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was stopped and detained by the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport on 18 August 2013 under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was questioned and items in his possession were taken by police, including encrypted material provided by Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda was detained for nine hours, the maximum period permitted at the time (since reduced to six hours).
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Critics of Islam prevented from entering UK to attend Lee Rigby rally

15 February 2015 by

rigby-mother_2659292bGeller and another, R (on the application of) v  The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2015] EWCA Civ – read judgment

This short case involves the old dilemma of public order law: whether it is right to shut down speech when the speaker himself does not intend to incite violence, but whose presence it is said may lead third parties to commit violence. Indeed the facts of this particular case go further than that , because the applicants had no plans to make any public address during their proposed visit to Britain. It was their presence alone which was feared would inflame “community tensions”.

The applicants were two well-known US writers whose critical views of Islam led to them being prevented from entering the country in May 2013, to speak at a rally  in the aftermath of the terrorist murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.  An exclusion order was issued against them on grounds of public order, of which they sought judicial review. This was their appeal against the Immigration Tribunal’s refusal to allow them to proceed with the judicial review claim.
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Anti-fracking protesters’ Convention rights against private landowners

18 March 2014 by

MEN-Anti-Fracking-3701_7113391-6384253Manchester Ship Canal Developments v Persons Unknown [2014] EWHC  645  (Ch) – read judgment

The High Court has ruled that Convention rights may be engaged in disputes between private landowners and trespassers, thereby making it incumbent on the court under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act to balance the trespassers’ rights under Article 8 against the landowner’s rights under Article 1 Protocol 1. 

The claimants, who owned land adjacent to a single track road surrounded by farmland, sought a possession order against the defendant activists who had set up camp close to the road in protest at the drilling program being undertaken by a company to whom the claimants had granted a licence. The protest, which obstructed the road on a number of occasions, was intended to deter the controversial fracking process which the activists feared would ensue.
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“Imprecise” injunctions against Facebook unenforceable, says NI judge

3 December 2013 by

Facebook-from-the-GuardianJ19 and Another v Facebook Ireland [2013] NIQB 113 – read judgment

The High Court in Northern Ireland has chosen to depart from the “robust” Strasbourg approach to service providers and their liability for comments hosted on their sites. Such liability, said the judge, was not consonant with the EC Directive on E-Commerce.

This was an application on behalf of the defendant to vary and discharge orders of injunction dated 27 September 2013 made in the case of both plaintiffs. One of the injunctions  restrained “the defendant from placing on its website photographs of the plaintiff, his name, address or any like personal details until further order.” These interim injunctions were awarded pursuant to writs issued by the plaintiffs for damages by reason of  the publication of photographs, information and comments on the Facebook webpages entitled “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne under Siege” and “Irish Banter” on 11 September 2013 and on subsequent dates.
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When is an advert “political” for the purposes of a ban under the Communications Act?

21 November 2013 by

20090327_radio_microphone_18R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party) [2013] EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment

The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ([2013] EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision).
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Internet trolls and why Strasbourg doesn’t want to get involved

14 October 2013 by

2879775-internet_trollDelfi AS v Estonia (Application no. 64569/09)  10 October 2013 – read judgment

This case concerned the liability of an Internet news portal for offensive comments that were posted by readers below one of its online news articles. The following summary is based on the Strasbourg Court’s press release.

The applicant company owns one of the largest internet news sites in Estonia. In January 2006, Delfi published an article on its webpage about a ferry company. It discussed the company’s decision to change the route its ferries took to certain islands. This had caused ice to break where ice roads could have been made in the near future. As a result, the opening of these roads – a cheaper and faster connection to the islands compared to the ferry services – was postponed for several weeks. Below the article, readers were able to access the comments of other users of the site. Many readers had written highly offensive or threatening posts about the ferry operator and its owner.
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Satirical insult of head of state should not be a criminal offence, rules Strasbourg

14 March 2013 by

PRS AUTOCEon v France, no. 26118/10   14 March 2013- read judgment (in French only)

The applicant, Hervé Eon, is a French national, a socialist and anti-GM activist living Laval (France). The case concerned his conviction for insulting President Sarkozy.

During a visit by the President to the département of Mayenne on 28 August 2008, Mr Eon had waved a placard reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”), a phrase uttered by the President himself several months previously when a farmer had refused to shake his hand at the International Agricultural Show. The utterance was widely disseminated in the media and on the internet, attaining the status of a slogan.
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Twitter users “free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel”

27 July 2012 by

Paul Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157 – Read judgment

The famous ‘Twitter joke’ conviction of Paul Chambers has been overturned on appeal, bringing welcome clarity to what is and what is not an offence of this type. On discovering a week before he was due to take a flight that the airport was closed due to adverse weather conditions, he tweeted that “I am blowing the airport sky high!!” unless the situation was resolved by the time of his flight. He was convicted of sending a message of a “menacing character”, but has had the conviction quashed on appeal, on the basis that, as it was a joke, it was not of a menacing character.

“I had decided to resort to terrorism”

Mr Chambers was intending to fly out of Robin Hood Airport on 15 January 2010 to meet a romantic partner he met on Twitter. On 6 January, via Twitter, he became aware that severe weather was causing problems at the airport, and engaged in a conversation on Twitter where he made the following comments:

“…I was thinking that if it does [close due to adverse weather] then I had
decided to resort to terrorism”

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Super injunctions, bad habits and secret justice [updated]

30 April 2010 by

Super injunctions, John Terry, human rights

No more super injunctions?

Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, provided an interesting discussion on so-called “super injunctions” in a speech on 28 April 2010. He said that “Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so.

Super injunctions came to prominence as a result of the case involving footballer John Terry, who initially used the courts to block publication of details of his extra marital affair, as well as all mention of the case.

The speech will be of particular interest to libel lawyers, as Lord Neuberger is currently chairing a high-profile panel to review super-injunctions which may lead to their demise. The speech provides a useful background to the issue in terms of human rights law, as well as in relation to freedom of speech in the United States (see our recent post on the topic).

Lord Neuberger gave little away, but does strongly emphasise the importance of open justice, which the super injunction has arguably diminished. The following paragraph may worry lawyers and celebrities who hope that the super injunction will survive:

29. But what of the substantive issue? How do we reconcile such injunctions with the principle of open justice? The first thing we could say is, as Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge in the Terry case, pointed out, where such an issue is raised it requires intense scrutiny by the court. It does so because openness is one of the means by which public confidence in the proper administration of justice is maintained. Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so. Neither reality nor suspicion are an acceptable feature of any open society.

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