Saturday, 13 April 2013

Freedom of Expression

Traditional 'freedom of expression' in England rested upon the principle that anyone is free to do what they want, unless the behaviour is specifically banned. Liberty is one sense, but a fragile one. The problem is that one person's use of the freedom may interfere with someone else's rights.

So throughout English history freedom of expression has been limited. The criminal law has been used to prevent obscenity; revelation of state secrets; sedition; inciting troops to mutiny; and in everyday life threatening, insulting or abusive words and behaviour are banned. Incitement to racial and religious hatred will bring criminal sanctions. There is criminal liability for contempt of court.

If someone's rights have been interfered with, there are remedies available in the civil courts - through actions for the torts of defamation and breach of confidence.

The European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10 states:-

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
This is not an absolute right - Section 2 makes that clear - but the right is also balanced against the rights of others set out elsewhere in the ECHR. Article 8 sets out the right to privacy - "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

There is some useful caselaw on balancing these rights, including -

Thompson and Venables v News Group Newspapers
Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers
Murray (by his Litigation Friends) v Express Newspapers plc
There's an excellent resource here on current privacy law.