Home > Government & Legislation > The Right to Freedom of Speech

The Right to Freedom of Speech

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 4 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Freedom Speech Expression Rights

The right to freedom of speech is recognised as a fundamental human right. However, this right must be used responsibly and there are certain exceptions.

Freedom of Speech Rights

Freedom of speech and expression are recognised under the European Convention of Human Rights as fundamental human rights. In Britain these rights can be found as early as 1215 in the Magna Carter.

Everyone has the right to freedom of speech and expression, and has the right to voice their opinions and to freely receive and give out information. Prior to the Human Rights Act, the freedom of expression was permitted as long as the law did not prevent it. But the Human Rights Act now guarantees under the law the rights to freedom of speech and expression.

The Fundamental Right

Freedom of speech and expression are extremely important rights; in Britain we have the right to express ourselves without persecution from others. This is not the case in all countries around the world. There are still countries where it is possible to be incarcerated and punished for expressing your own opinion if it goes against government thinking. The right to freedom of speech and expression is the building block of our society. Anyone has the right to express themselves freely without fear of punishment from the government of from other individuals.

Responsibility and Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech and expression are not absolute rights; this means that there are exceptions to these fundamental rights. For example publishing material or making comments that are specifically designed to incite racial hatred can be deemed to be a hate crime. Anyone who is found committing this offence can be charged in a criminal court. Many people argue that publishing a person’s opinion, even if it is offensive to others, is a right. However, if the material is intended to bring harm against others then that is an abuse of the victim’s other civil and human rights.

Other Exceptions

There are other exceptions to this right and they do include restrictions on the grounds of national security. Other exceptions can include restrictions on the grounds of public safety, the protection of health and morals, and restrictions to prevent crime and disorder. The disclosure of information that has been received in confidence is another exception. The main exceptions to the rights of freedom of speech and expression are that the expressions do not endanger or harm others.

Rights in Action

Although no one wants to take away another person’s right to freedom of speech it is wise to use this freedom responsibly. A recent freedom of expression controversy occurred when a Danish newspaper printed cartoons on the prophet Mohammed. The Muslim community deemed these cartoons to be offensive and irresponsible. Extreme Muslims went further by burning embassies and causing the deaths of others. The cultural editor of the Danish newspaper expressed regret over the consequences of the cartoons but would not apologise as they felt that had a right to publish the cartoons.

Responsible Use of Expression

The freedom to communicate is a right, as is the freedom to pass and receive information. If the Danish newspaper had been forbidden to print the cartoons it could be seen as censorship of the press. If the editor of the newspaper had not printed the cartoon that could have been viewed as self-censorship, and where do the boundaries end in giving information? However, if they had acted in a more responsible manner it may have avoided the deaths and violence that occurred. Freedom of speech and expression is important but there are consequences if these rights are not used in a responsible manner.

Freedom of speech and expression are fundamental within our society. But, with rights come responsibilities and obligations. Using these rights responsibly is a necessity. This does not necessarily mean censorship but there are consequences that should be considered when using the rights of freedom of speech and expression.

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A very worrying conclusion is drawn here in relation to the Danish cartoons. The violence that followed their publication was abhorrent and completely unjustified. To assume that this was a consequence of 'irresponsible' journalism rather than religious fundamentalism, shifts the blame and troubles me very much.
Greg - 4-Oct-17 @ 7:52 AM
Alistair - Your Question:
Tried twice to post on here but just get "forbidden"

Our Response:
Perhaps you are trying to post a link? Our system will not allow this (nor will it allow profanities etc)
CivilRightsMovement - 2-Oct-17 @ 2:00 PM
Some big issues of denial of democracy and freedom of speech currently in progress at the Institution of Chemical Engineers. Its run by an unelected council of highly paid cronies who are mostly not chemical engineers. This year, the members elected our first council rep but the institution quickly decided they don’t like change nor secrets exposed so made life impossible for him and quickly put him on phoney disciplinary charges and in isolation. Unable to fulfill his mandate after 6 months of trying he had no option to resign. Any challenge from the 1000+ that elected him with a big majority is rebuffed and now the rights of free speech are being suppressed as anyone who asks questions or doesn’t agree with their happy message is banned from their forums. People wonder why terrible things like Grenfell happen and part of the explanation is some engineering institutions are dysfunctional and engineers who would like to do good are obstructed or ignored by bureaucrats.Any advice welcome. More available.
Alistair - 29-Sep-17 @ 3:53 PM
Tried twice to post on here but just get "forbidden"
Alistair - 29-Sep-17 @ 1:52 PM
In an opinion below, Pobs wrote this (with respect to the Slaugher of Charli Hebdo staff) : " Anyone who decides to taunt dangerous people, even though they apparently have the freedom to do so, has no regard for the safety of the nation and they need to be silenced." Why has it not occured to this writer that it is the dangerous people who need to be stopped, and not those exercising their rights to freedom of speech in their own country? Perhaps he is among the group that is taught by its religion and culture that murdering people in a country with different laws from Sharia is a requirement for all true followers.
Attenda - 15-Sep-17 @ 11:25 PM
Regarding the publication of the cartoons--which is legal in the country in which they were published:" However, if they had acted in a more responsible manner it may have avoided the deaths and violence that occurred. Freedom of speech and expression is important but there are consequences if these rights are not used in a responsible manner." Whoa, there--in the West, where those cartoons were published, their publication was considered to be a responsible act. In the West, what is deemed irresponsible are acts of violence on the flimsy excuse of being "offended" andwith the direct intent of silencing political speech in a country in which it is legal. If you threaten to commit violence every time I say something you decide offends you, freedom of speech is an illusion, and a transparent one at that.
Attenda - 15-Sep-17 @ 11:06 PM
As others have mentioned. That isn't freedom of speech. You're saying you have the right to freedom of speech expect in this case, in this exemption, in this way, in that way and even then you have a duty of responsibility not to upset someone. Hate crime is the very opposite of freedom of speech. When you're freedom of speech can be blocked because someone might take offence and commit a crime that is not freedom of speech. No matter your view, someone, somewhere will always be offended by that view. The only exceptions should be to speech that incites, crime, murder or violence. We don't have freedom of speech in the UK. Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool.
NJ - 5-Aug-17 @ 10:13 AM
On 6 March 2017 my local authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council informed the Information Commissioner it will not process my outstanding freedom of information requests and subject access request neither shall it process my future similar requests. On 7 March 2017 the same local authority advised that it had banned myself from contacting any of its officers or members of staff by post and or by email. My situation at present is that I cannot complete my Planning application, ask a question at any Council meeting [the question must be submitted in advance and in writing] make a formal complaint, seek information including my personal data held by the Council. Disappointingly my two Council ward Councillors refuse to represent me and my MP refuses to acknowledge my correspondence.I have no choice now but seek the assistance of the High Court. I leave you with this thought - in 1933 the German Government of the day made it unlawful for any of its MP's, Judges, barristers, solicitors, town mayors, Councils, councillors, police officers and newspaper editors to lend aid to a Jew ....
TheBloodhound - 17-Jul-17 @ 12:49 PM
Our free speech in England has been taken. What is free speech if we cannot ridicule Islam. Even on Facebook we can't say anything about Muslims or Islam without being banned its getting ridiculous. We should be able to say whatever we want without feat of being arrested
Keeley ferretmum - 9-Feb-17 @ 10:17 AM
Your grammar is so bad. like you guys are complaining about freedom of speech, but don't even know how to speak?
law and government - 31-Jan-17 @ 6:47 PM
This article is double-talk. First it brags about how free speech is protected in the UK, then it says speech must not be 'racist' -- by which they undoubtedly mean it must not be against Islam (among other things) -- you know, Islam, the ideology of xenocide which explicitly, and without boundaries in time, incites the murder of 5.5 billion (currently) non-Muslims "until Allah alone is worshipped." But you dare not criticize that ideology of hate in the UK. That would be "irresponsible" and hateful and you'll be arrested and imprisoned for 'hate'. So, in the UK, it's hateful to hate haters (Islam), but not hateful to hate haters (those who criticize Islam. The brilliant Brits, so proud of their long tradition of intellectual prowess, are apparently incapable of seeing the contradiction. The truth is, the UK is dominated by socialists, which is a polite word for Communists, who have no problem imposing tyranny on populations they control. Communists are not big on free speech, for those who haven't noticed. But you can't tell Brits that, either, because they've been brainwashed by so many years of commie indoctrination in their schools, the idea just can get through their thick skulls. But brag about their rights to free speech they will. Free speech as long as you're a communist multiculturalist who's fine with the country being overrun by adherents of the bloodiest ideology in modern history. The UK will pay dearly for this insanity, at the hands of Muslims. Civil rights movement, myass. Enforced political correctness is what this article supports.
Lodi Silverado - 1-Jan-17 @ 12:14 AM
Use it or lose it ,do not ignore it
Betty - 29-Oct-16 @ 1:12 AM
Dinha - Your Question:
My 15 years old son was send home without a tie on the 1st day of his 11th year at school but they allow another student without a tie to stay at school. They didn't even notified me they were sending him home. He had no phone and no house keys. My neighbour rang me to inform me that my son was sat outside the house. On that evening My son done a video explaining what happened at school that day but he mocked the teachers which, as a parent I find it unacceptable behaviour. Also, the background of the video was the COD game which they threatened me to call the police as if the my son was a lunatic but never had major problems in school. They have now permanently excluded him but offered a 'Managed transfer' and I found this so detrimental to his well-being as none school will accept him at year 1-, his GCSE's year. Please if anyone could help me, I would be forever greatful as this is tormenting my life. My son has been out of school for almost 2 weeks. Thank you ??

Our Response:
Do you know for sure that no school will accept him? Many schools will accept pupils, if their numbers allow it, even at this stage of a child's education. Contact your local education authority...they haveduty to find schooling for children in their area.
CivilRightsMovement - 25-Oct-16 @ 11:54 AM
My 15 years old son was send home without a tie on the 1st day of his 11th year at school but they allow another student without a tie to stay at school. They didn't even notified me they were sending him home. He had no phone and no house keys. My neighbour rang me to inform me that my son was sat outside the house. On that evening My son done a video explaining what happened at school that day but he mocked the teachers which, as a parent I find it unacceptable behaviour. Also, the background of the video was the COD game which they threatened me to call the police as if the my son was a lunatic but never had major problems in school. They have now permanently excluded him but offered a 'Managed transfer' and I found this so detrimental to his well-being as none school will accept him at year 1-, his GCSE's year. Please if anyone could help me, I would be forever greatful as this is tormenting my life. My son has been out of school for almost 2 weeks. Thank you ??
Dinha - 24-Oct-16 @ 7:29 AM
The High Court of England and Wales recently restrained me from owning and operating a website/blog - or creating and using a email address - for the next two years. So far I am unaware of any other English/Welsh court handing down this same order on any other UK Citizen. I fear in time to come I shall not be permitted use of pen or pencil or semaphore. How can such an order not breach article 10 ECHR 1998 ?
cockerel18 - 6-Oct-16 @ 5:40 PM
It is difficult for me to take this site seriously when you can't even spell Magna Carta correctly!
Minxy - 17-Aug-16 @ 9:59 AM
Our freedoms are being eroded on a daily basis and I worry what the future holds for us in the UK.It is no longer permissible to exchange humour (in public) about other cultures, even though other cultures share that humour themselves. We cannot publicly express our concerns about race and immigration although privately so many people share the same opinions. Now I am told that it is becoming 'socially unacceptable' to look at a member of the opposite sex in the wrong manner.As an aging male member of society I think that I'm genetically programmed to look at boobs and bums, I'm sorry if that offends ladies, it is not in any way intended to but you should draw comfort that this behaviour will soon become illegal.But to what end?At what point does socially acceptable behaviour become repression and at what point will the consequences of repression become apparent in British society.When will the British Spring occur?
SipiC - 12-Aug-16 @ 7:30 AM
You are as bad as the rest,exceptions here exceptions there. exceptions exceptions everywhere!
J - 22-Jul-16 @ 7:03 AM
True freedom of speech does not have any exceptions! Period.
J - 22-Jul-16 @ 7:01 AM
Come on, how can you say :' in Britain we have the right to express ourselves without persecution from others.'? That is blatantly untrue. A man was recently arrested for asking a Muslim woman '.. to explain Brussels'. He was persecuted by the police for asking a question. So we do persecute people for expressing themselves. You know yourselves that there are plenty of other similar examples. You should correct your text to reflect that. Freedom of speech is not freedom to say what is not forbidden.
H Rearden - 9-Jun-16 @ 4:14 PM
I have a question. I work in a private UK school and they are using they social policy to ask us what not to write on our social media account. My problem is they said we can't right "I have a tough day" and I have the feeling this is crossing the line as there is no reference with the work as my profile doesn't say where I work.
J2016 - 9-Jan-16 @ 9:34 AM
Give up you right to bare arms and your freedom is forfeited to the politicians and bureaucrats.
Savagedoor - 16-Nov-15 @ 8:02 PM
i just read about a guy that got 4months jail for wearing t shirt that said one dead pig,perfect justice .doesn`t that come under freedom of speech?
andy - 9-Aug-15 @ 7:29 PM
My freedom of speech has been blocked for talking about our rights in common law and for talking about crimes committed by the government. Should I inform the police?
Luke - 25-May-15 @ 6:30 PM
I'm emo and I believe in rights!!111!! <3
The devil - 20-Feb-15 @ 11:18 AM
A couple of people here consider that French magazine Charlie Hebdo exercised its right to freedom of speech in an "irresponsible" manner because it lead to killings. Am I hearing right? Who is irresponsible in the events? Are these people really saying that because there is a bully in the school playground, children should not go out to play, that to do so would be irresponsible? Come on, people! When I was growing up there were of course school bullys who would call people "fat", or "stupid", or "spastic", etc. I was taught MY responsibility, and that was to say "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me". In other words, if Charlie Hebdo wants to be irreverent, they have every right to (I'm not saying that doing so is intelligent or even that the magazine is intelligent - one of their cartoonists has even said that Charlie Hebdo is nothing more than a silly little teenage fanzine whose level of humour does not rise above that of schoolboys), and they cannot be accused of irresponsibility. The irresponsibility lies with those who refuse to shut their eyes and ears and simply ignore the "offence", be it deliberate or not, and became the bullys of the story. Religious sensitivity is - or should be - no reason for stifling freedom of speech. We should be entitled to mock religion. Otherwise where do we end up? Down a slippery slope where unbelievers (whose mouths are inevitably foul) may not, under threat of death, even pronounce the name of whoever the god or prophet of the moment might be?
Frenchie - 15-Jan-15 @ 2:06 PM
Freedom of Speech is not Absolute Freedom of speech is not absolute; there must be limitations for the preservation of peace and order in any civil society. Freedom of speech should not be taken as a licence to incite hatred and violence or to heap insult and scorn on anyone’s religion, culture, ethnicity or other demographics. Without restrictions on freedom of speech, there will be those who would react violently to such defamatory statements as evidenced by the Charlie Hebdo satirical publication in Paris. It’s disgusting to see all these world leaders in a circus of hypocrisy shedding crocodile tears and locking arms in bereavement of the slain victims when they should be focussing on the cause of the problem; the cause being unfettered licence to defame someone’s religion, culture, ethnicity or other demographics. Just recently Israel massacred over 2,000 Palestinian innocent women and children in Gaza with their 5,000 lb bombs provided by the US; where was the outrage by these world leaders? Cephas Keith Reyes.
Cephas Keith Reyes - 14-Jan-15 @ 5:00 PM
Like everyone else, I am horrified by the terrorist killings in France, but so far I have not witnessed anyone criticising the 'freedom of speech' which led to the attack.Indeed, everyone seems to be supporting it, even though it was irresponsible in this case.Perhaps many people feel that it is too soon to criticise those journalists who lost their lives, as this would be insensitive to their families, but I do hope that in the weeks and months to come we will all realise that words and images can be dangerous as well as offensive.What if those terrorists had targeted a busy public place instead of the newspaper offices, and many more innocent people had lost their lives instead?In that event, would there have still been support for Charlie Hebdo, or would they be considered to have blood on their hands?I hope that when emotions have died down a little, the French people (including politicians) will do some deep thinking instead of just acting defiantly. Anyone who decides to taunt dangerous people, even though they apparently have the freedom to do so, has no regard for the safety of the nation and they need to be silenced.
Pobs - 11-Jan-15 @ 5:40 PM
Freedom of speech is sacrosanct, therefore to state the following: "Freedom of speech and expression are not absolute rights; this means that there are exceptions to these fundamental rights." you therefore do not believe that freedom of speech is sacrosanct and do in fact NOT believe in the freedom to speak freely. A horse that resides in a field with a 10ft fence surrounding it is not free, as would any speech that is restricted. This article is a contradiction to freedom of speech. Hate speech, for example, are straight from the pages of Orwell's "1984". If one rights an article inciting violence towards another, it would be free speech. If however someone acted upon it, then the crime would be done by the individual committing the violent act. If I said to you "stick your hand in the fire over there" would you do it? Who would be looked upon as wrong - you or me? Let us take Tony Blair or GW Bush for example? They ordered British and American soldiers to illegally invade Afghanistan and Iraq, even though both lands never threatened the UK or USA whatsoever. They therefore ordered the subsequent murders of Afghans and Iraqis. In your definition of freedom of speech, this would fall under 'hate speech' as ordering one to kill another, through promoting the invasion of another land is parallel to your definitions above on 'absolute rights'. What is the difference to myself or you telling another to go out and kill Muslim people in Iraq and Afghanistan and a direct order from the head of a country, themselves a public servant doing the same with ordering the armed forces to war. In this case, both should be prosecuted for taking their countries into unlawful wars, but not in ordering people to kill others in a foreign land. Those who commit crimes of murder should be prosecuted, but not those who tell them to.
Harbinger - 12-May-14 @ 5:54 PM
there is censorship on what you say as you can be having a private conversation with someone and anyone within earshot can report you for what you say even though it has nothing to do with them or does not concern them so where is your freedom of speech.
cj - 17-Jun-13 @ 10:00 PM
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