A landmark ruling has taken place this month with two judges ruling in favour of free speech – even if it encompasses offensive language. The two judges, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby, stated that, “freedom to speak only inoffensively is not worth having.” The ruling comes at a time where being ‘woke’ and politically correct is upheld as a fundamental part of modern society. While being aware of social issues and misjustice is key to a democratic and fair society, the ruling does bring up the question of what actually constitutes free speech.
Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby’s ruling presided over the case of conservative mother, Katie Scottow, who had been brought to court after her offensive tweets regarding trans-woman, Stefanie Hayden. Scottow had originally been found guilty under the 2003 communications act for offensive and upsetting tweets aimed at Hayden that included the words, “pig in a wig,” and, “racist.” The previous ruling had been presided over by district judge Magaret Dodds, who at the time had handed Scottow a two-year conditional discharge and awarded £1000 compensation for the remarks. Now, 10 months later the charges have been overturned with Warby and Bean declaring that, “free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another”. Citing the 2003 communications act that Scottow had been charged on, the two judges decided that the relevant parts were not, “intended by Parliament to criminalise forms of expression, the content of which is no worse than annoying or inconvenient in nature.”
The landmark ruling has turned the idea of free speech on its head, opening up questions about whether free speech should be able to encompass offensive language. It seems a balance has to be struck between remaining a liberal and democratic society, while also protecting the social rights of citizens. When asked about her thoughts on the ruling Scottow declared that, “it was necessary to enshrine one of the most fundamental rights of every living being in a democratic society.” Stefanie Hayden, however, sees the ruling as a blow to the LGBTQ community, especially at a time where social equality is so needed.
© Whitestone Chambers