Important court ruling in UK finds free speech includes right to offend 

The Court of Appeal in Britain has ruled that free speech includes the right to offend, finding that “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”. 

The landmark ruling was handed down in the case of a mother, Kate Scottow, who was arrested in front of her children because she described a trans activist who had been born a male as “he” on Twitter.

Presiding over the case in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby said that ‘free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another’. Commentators say the judgment will set an important precedent for other cases involving freedom of speech, and tna

The Daily Mail described the ruling as a “victory in the war on woke”, while the Daily Telegraph said the landmark ruling was “a blow to enemies of free speech”, and that the ruling showed “people should have the right to offend and even abuse each other without facing a police investigation”.

Mother-of-two Kate Scottow, from Hertfordshire, had been arrested by three police officers at her home in 2018, and then charged and found guilty of offences under the 2003 Communications Act. She was accused by trans activist Stephanie Hayden – who claimed Scottow was obliged under the law to refer to her as a woman – of  ‘harassment’ and of having  ‘misgendered’ the claimant just ‘to annoy people like me’.

Ms Scottow, who says she is a radical feminist, admitted calling Hayden a man and a ‘pig in a wig’.

While Boris Johnson described her arrest as an abuse of power, in February this year Scottow was handed a two-year conditional discharge, and ordered to pay £1,000 compensation. District judge Margaret Dodds said: ‘Your comments contributed nothing to a debate. We teach children to be kind to each other and not to call each other names in the playground.’

The conviction caused concern as commentators pointed to a growing trend of using the police to intimidate those who expressed opposing views on controversial issues such as compelled speech – requiring people to use preferred pronouns for those who have changed gender – or even those who assert that biology determines gender.

Overturning the decision of the District Court , Mr Justice Warby ruled that the 2003 Communications Act was “not intended by Parliament to criminalise forms of expression, the content of which is no worse than annoying or inconvenient in nature”.

He was critical of the District Court ruling, saying had the case “been approached by the Judge in a legally correct manner, it should have been dismissed”, and describing the judge’s approach as “flawed in several aspects” and her reasoning “deficient”.

He also indicated that the prosecution had been an ‘unjustified state interference with free speech’.  Lord Justice Bean said that decision-makers in the criminal justice system  needed to have regard to issues of freedom of speech.

The judges said it would be a “serious interference” with the right of free speech if “those wishing to express their own views could be silenced by, or threatened with, proceedings for harassment based on subjective claims by individuals that felt offended or insulted”.

Earlier this year, the  British High Court ruled a police investigation into so-called “transphobic” tweets by former policeman Harry Miller was unlawful. Mr Miller had been visited at work by police to “check his thinking”.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals will likely slow the malicious use of legislation to curtail freedom of expression and police arguments on Twitter.

Mrs Scottow told The Telegraph that the verdict is “a victory for freedom of speech that confirms no one has the right not to be offended”.

 

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