Freedom Of Speech : An Essential Part Of A Democratic Society Essay

Freedom Of Speech : An Essential Part Of A Democratic Society Essay

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Although freedom of speech is regarded by many as an essential part of a democratic society, there is ongoing debate as to how far this right should extend, and whether it is acceptable to place limitations upon the right on the grounds that the speech could be classified as “hate speech”. Hate speech is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “speech expressing hatred or intolerance of other social groups”. This covers a wide array of language, from racist or homophobic language, through to the publication of unsavoury views such as holocaust denialism. Despite the importance of free speech being widely accepted within both political commentary and legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights, some commentators argue that it is necessary to place legal restrictions on speech in order to protect others from offence or from harm. In this essay I will analyse each of these liberty-limiting principles. I will argue that it is not generally justifiable to restrict speech on the basis that it could cause offence, and that, whilst prevention of harm is a strong defence of hate speech legislation, such legislation would not be justified as it would go beyond that which is necessary in a democratic society.
The importance of free speech is highlighted by its inclusion as a fundamental right in many liberal democracies around the world. Article 10 of the European Constitution on Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”. This is a conditional right, which may be limited insofar as it is prescribed by law and “necessary in a democratic society”. Th...


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...a real danger that law-makers would put too much focus on the protection of society from mere offence, and use this as justification to restrict views which may be unpopular or provocative, thus restricting free speech on the basis of political convenience as opposed to necessity. This approach can be seen within recent decisions
The danger with the legal censorship of views based upon their propensity to offend is that it could lead to views being censored due to their unpopularity, or their provocative nature. This can be seen in the recent case of Core Issues Trust v Transport for London. In this case, the high court held that the decision of Transport for London not to allow the display of an advert on its buses which said “NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD! GET OVER IT!”, did not breach Article 10 ECHR, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act.

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