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British Think Tank Calls For New Free Speech Law

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Marble Bust of Adam Smith, Adam Smith Business School Wikipedia

A research fellow at the Adam Smith Institute has proposed to change and strengthen the UK’s existing speech laws

In a paper called Sense and Sensitivity: Restoring Free Speech in the United Kingdom, Preston. J. Byrne describes how the UK should look to America in order to fix it’s laws on free speech.

Mr Byrne starts by saying “There should be no right not to be offended, no right to prevent others from expressing ideas that one finds uncomfortable or dislikes, in positive law.”

The UK’s current laws around free speech are considered by many to be completely inadequate, which some believe has lead to police applying different and oftentimes inconsistent applications of the law.

Some of the laws that they say have diminished peoples freedoms are,

  • The Public Order Act 1986
  • The Communications Act 2003
  • The Terrorism Act 2000/6
  • The Malicious Communications Act 1988 and
  • Article 10 of the European Convention
Credit: Flickr – zeljkoo – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There are a number of examples that people cite showing that freedom of speech is eroding. From the YouTube video of Mark Meechan’s (Count Dankula) ‘Nazi Pug’ to the police treatment of both Darren Grimes and protests recently.

The LBC radio presenter Majid Nawaz is often heard talking about how the public’s freedom is being lost as a result of police action or government legislation.

In Scotland the Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf has tried to implement a law which could criminalise;

  •  Private correspondence (even before being sent)
  • Being in possession of “inflammatory material” and
  • Criticising the devolved government (though vague terms like hate speech) that many have condemned
BBC News

The Adam Smith Institute have proposed that Parliament should therefore implement a Free Speech Act for the whole of the UK based on the First Amendment in the US Constitution.

The Institute proposes to,

  • “Remove all references to “abusive or insulting” words and behaviour from Parts 1 and 3 of the Public Order Act 1986;
  • Replace the Section 127 of the Communication Act 2003 with (a) a provision that limits the scope to the existing rule to “threating” only and (b) a new rule that addresses meaningful stalking and cyberstalking threats which cause or intend to cause substantial emotional distress, modelled after 18 U.S. Code & 2261A;
  • Repeal the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and replace it with aforementioned stalking statute and
  • Introduce a Free Speech Act

They have suggested the Act should include an “express, blanket statutory protection from government interference” in other words discrimination when expressing any political speech that “does not constitute direct incitement or is otherwise not expressly illegal under common law or statute”.

This new act they state will not change already existing laws around universally recognised “low value” speech such as harassment, malicious defamation, criminal threating, perverting the course of justice or perjury.

Although modelled on the US First Amendment the paper goes on to say that the meaning of First Amendment has evolved over time due to case law,

If a similar law was implemented then it would have to be in greater detail in the beginning so as to applicable to todays society.

Finally the paper does not suggest how such a law should be worded specifically saying that is up to Parliament which they consider is the ultimate authority on such a matter.

Ending on a sombre yet hopeful note Mr Byrne does say that the “sun is setting on the Enlightenment in the United Kingdom…. freedom of expression has been substantially undermined” and “the law is in dire need of reform.”