It has been ruled by two senior members of the judiciary that people should have “the right to offend” without risking a police investigation.
Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby have insisted that freedom of speech includes the “right to offend” in a landmark ruling. It came after a feminist who called Stephanie Hayden, a transgender woman, a “pig in a wig” and a “man” was cleared. Both judges were of the opinion that “freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”.
The ruling has only emerged now, but was a result of the successful appeal decided last week in favour of Hertfordshire mother of two Kate Scottow. Earlier this year, Ms Scottow had been found guilty under the 2003 Communications Act, section 127(2)c. Ms Scottow saw the ruling as “necessary to enshrine one of the most fundamental rights of every living being in a democratic society” and claimed that “the right to freedom of speech is now routinely attacked”. Her opposition, however, claimed that it was “a kick in the teeth to the entire LGBT community”.
Throughout the trial at St Albans Magistrates’ Court, there was a mob of free speech supporters protesting the verdict. They chanted things such as “pig in a wig” and “he’s a man – go on, prosecute me”. They also held up banners that read “we love free speech” and tied scarves of the colours of the Suffragettes to the lampposts outside the courthouse.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was also made aware of the case. In February 2019, he said: “You can’t police properly if officers are endlessly filling custody suites with mums whose crime is to have caused needless offence on Twitter. Whatever the rights and wrongs are of this Internet feud, we are wasting too much time and resource on cases like this.”
In the original case, Ms Hayden alleged that the defendant was guilty of “harassment” and had “misgendered” her “to annoy people like me”. As she waved her Gender Recognition Certificate, the complainant told the court that Ms Scottow was bound by law to refer to her as a woman in all contexts.
The defendant was given a two-year conditional discharge, and was ordered to pay £1,000 in compensation. Now, after a successful appeal, the verdict has been quashed.