Monday, August 20, 2012

UK laws on free speech

UK law is stupid when it comes to issues of free speech. Recently, a number of criminal prosecutions have been brought against individuals who made remarks on the internet which upset people. These comments were dumb, mean spirited and deserving of repudiation. However, they should not have received criminal sanction. The fact that English law imposes a burden on a speaker to ensure that his speech will not reasonably be perceived as offensive (even if he does not intend for it to be so) is truly ridiculous. Such a burden restricts emotional debate and chills public discourse on matters of key public concern. It also leads to a profoundly tiered approach towards determining what is and what is not legitimate speech, allowing prosecutors and the police to apply their own flexibly subjective standards in the enforcement of the law. These laws are un-democratic and authoritarian. Sadly they are supplemented by equally bad UK laws on defamation. I am gratified that the US still protects free speech where the UK does not.

It shouldn't be illegal to be an ass hole.

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