A short post to say that I was interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg for today’s Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4. I was debating, with Nadine Dorries MP, a recent series of criminal prosecution (see my post from last week) brought against social media users. The debate centred on the implications for freedom of speech as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The full programme can be listened to here (UK only, I think) – the social media section is from around 20 minutes in. You may have guessed from my post as well as this interview that I think the current state of the law under the Communications Act 2003 is causing very significant problems for freedom of expression.
Relatedly, I am chairing an interesting panel debate tomorrow (Wednesday) evening on this very topic. I understand the event is full but you can submit questions ahead of the event to or follow for live tweets @HumanRightsLawA ; #lawandtwittering
Wagner is one of 14 authors who contributed to a new working publication entitled ‘Justice Wide Open’, produced by the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London, following an event on February 29 2012. The individual chapters can be accessed electronically.
Calver, R (on the application of) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales  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.
Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ – indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.
Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?
On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.
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-called “father of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:
In its first few days, Supreme Court Live has been showing an insurance case which has been, shall we say, a little difficult to follow (of course it would have been much more difficult to follow but for the excellent advocacy on display…) But the service works well and the footage is of high quality by current standards.
Whilst watching the case my mind wandered to the nuts and bolts of the arrangement between Sky and the court, and whether there are plans to expand the service in the future. I asked the Supreme Court, and this is what they said.
These types of proceedings can have human rights implications in two ways: Article 6, providing the right to a fair trial can be infringed upon by improper communicaton by jurors, and to a lesser extent, Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression may be engaged. As Article 10 includes a large number of circumstances where freedom of expression may be lawfully restricted, raising freedom of expression arguments to challenge the bringing of contempt proceedings would be very unlikely to succeed in these circumstances.
The comments system works just like a blog post. Any member of the public can leave comments on any particular provision of the draft law. The deadline for comments is 7th March.
The Prime Minister says that the Public Reading Stage, which is touchingly in “beta”, will “improve the level of debate and scrutiny of bills by giving everyone the opportunity to go online and offer their views” on new laws.” “That”, he suggests “means better laws – and more trust in our politics.”
The Coalition Government has today launched the “Your Freedom” website, “giving people the opportunity to suggest ideas on restoring liberties that have been lost, repealing unnecessary laws and stripping away excessive regulation on businesses”.
The website can be accessed here, although it appears to be having some bandwidth issues at the moment. Amongst other things, it asks the public “which current laws would you like to remove or change because they restrict your civil liberties?” According to the Number 10 press release, the answers will be taken into account in the Freedom Bill later this year.
In its Program for Government, the Coalition promised a “Freedom” or “Great Repeal Bill”, which is a marrying together of the two parties’ manifesto promises (the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives respectively). Whether the eventual legislation will be as wide-ranging as the draft Bill published by the Liberal Democrats is not clear, although interestingly a substantial number of the Bill’s proposals made it into the Coalition agreement, notably children’s biometrics, freedom of information, trial by jury, ID cards, DNA, regulation of CCTV and the right to public assembly.
The Law Society of Scotland have sounded the alarm in relation to new Government powers to block an individual’s internet access, and argue that this is likely to amount to a breach of their Human Rights.
The Digital Economy Bill, which has now passed through Parliament and has royal assent, has attracted wide attention in the past few days for a number of reasons. Many have been concerned at the apparent lack of debate in relation to the wide-ranging Bill.
However, a pressing concern amongst internet users has been the proposed new powers for the Government to block an individual’s internet access as a punishment for internet piracy.
The Law Society of Scotland consider that blocking an individual’s internet access would be breach their human rights. They are concerned in particular with the lack of a requirement for a court order before access is cut off, which would amount to a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention. Jim McLean, convener of the Society’s Intellectual Property Committee says:
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