Even an oik has freedoms

Imprisoned just for speaking

A Welsh district judge, John Charles, just barged through ancient legal protections for free speech and gaoled one Liam Stacey for 56 days for offensive tweets — essentially two months in pokey for speaking.

These tweets were obnoxiously filthy but the judge went too far. It should be possible to utter any offensive words in public without fear of arrest or legal sanction. If the words are wrong, if they accuse a person incorrectly, or make allegations without justification, then the speaker should expect to be charged with slander or similar. But so-called “hate speech” — merely insulting a person, organisation, community, city, nation or race gives insufficient grounds to deprive a person of liberty.

Shall it now be unlawful to craft insults or express hatred? Why should we not hate some people? There are already acceptable grounds for it, such as murder, rape, incest or child molesting; but nobody can say that these are all or that no other acceptable grounds could arise.

Impossible to codify hatred

For there are no dividing lines with insults or hatred. There is simply a sliding scale which morphs gradually into deeper foulness. Trying to codify and criminalise hatred is impossible. The expression of hatred says more about the speaker than any stilted legal description of his speech could do and would still provide no excuse to deprive him of his liberty.

The do-gooders in Britain have gone too far.

Victoria Coren says we ought to know exactly what offensive words were said and precisely the charge that was brought. Hazy summaries are not enough either to convict him or intelligently to inform us, and it’s the duty of the reporting medium to impart these vital details. While granting the young man the unenviable status of “oik” Victoria also insists he has proper rights under the law which were abrogated in this case.

You can learn the facts from the links here, I think, and spare this blog the burden of some pretty disgusting drivel.

Frequently quoted in the name of Voltaire, this famous sentence was written to summarise Voltaire’s beliefs on freedom of thought and expression and still captures the aspirations of many concerned with preserving free speech:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Joan Smith, at The Independent, points out the disparity between the court’s treatment of Stacey and its complete disregard of other offensive rants in social media. She laments the collapse of a promising young man’s education and prospects, although the emerging violence and racial intolerance might justify his severe punishment. I think some punishment is due but too much was meted out.

What did Liam Stacey actually say in his tweets? I tracked down an unexpurgated version in an obscure blog called “this is my england“. *** VERY FOUL LANGUAGE WARNING ***

Hand bureaucrats the tools of tyranny

This injustice has proceeded from the notion of “inciting hatred”, which I seem to recall was a response to ultra-nationalists and skinheads who promote the removal of Jews, gypsies and blacks in order to make society “pure”. That law should not have been applied in this case, which is quite different. But give a prosecutor a weapon for any reason and he’ll use it for any reason.

If we let skinheads and others peddle their bigotry it will be uncomfortable or painful. But that pain is better than handing our bureaucrats the tools of tyranny.

Also, we must teach our children to think, for correct personal reasoning is good defence against bigotry.

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2 Thoughts on “Even an oik has freedoms

  1. Letsgoright on 12/04/2012 at 9:44 pm said:

    The judge at the appeal said that he didn’t have any guidelines for sentencing internet speech offences. In which case, shouldn’t he have *asked* for some guidelines, rather than plucking a custodial sentence out of thin air??

    This case was political, in my opinion, and that is the danger of speech laws. The may begin with good intentions, but they end up being used to stifle political speech.

    The Judge at the appeal has previously, and controversially, cut the sentences of a paedophile and a rapist.
    Yet he dismissed the appeal of a young student for a speech crime. Shameful.

  2. Andy on 13/04/2012 at 11:04 am said:

    He’s obviously a bit short of a few since most employers these days will look at Twitter and Facebook to see what kind of person you are.

    I can’t really defend his rantings, since they are pretty obnoxious. However, if this guy was mouthing off in a public place I’d simply move somewhere else, or ignore him,. It’s clearly attention-seeking behaviour.

    Most social media is fairly self-correcting. If you are truly obnoxious then people get to tell you about that one way or another.

    The custodial sentence is absurd. By the sounds of it, from the previous commenter, the judge is a politically correct numpty.

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