Attorney General Jeremy Wright's illuminating talk on the legal meanings and histories of free speech, opened the HRC's 30th anniversary celebrations on November 6th. Ranging from Magna Carta of 1215 to new legislation in 2015, Jeremy showed how free speech has always been a qualified right in UK, requiring a delicate balance between freedom of expression and those who might suffer as a result. He pointed out, for example, that both defendants and plaintiffs have rights in court that cannot be violated by prejudicial reporting in the press. He also drew a distinction between criminal restrictions on speech, for example incitement to commit a crime, and civil restrictions such as libel laws. As both society and technology have evolved so have attitudes and laws related to free speech - we are able to say things now we could not a century ago, but at the same time some ways in which we communicate (for example via social media) have to be explicitly included in recent legislation. As Jeremey noted, all western democracies have similar regulations on free speech: in the USA, where there is a constitutional right to free speech, incitement and obscenity remain exceptions.
A great way to start our series of events on Freedom of Speech.
Jermey Wright QC MP and
Professor Tim Lockley