EHRC announces new guidance on freedom of expression at Public Lecture

11 February 2015

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new legal guidance on freedom of expression after a lecture at Canterbury Christ Church University last week.

Guest speakers, the Commission’s Chair Onora O’Neill and Chief Executive Mark Hammond, argued within the lecture that freedom of expression is a fundamental right which is essential for democracy, a free media and political, artistic and scientific development.

Following the recent tragic deaths in Paris, there has been considerable debate both nationally and internationally about free speech. The new guidance aims to help address ‘muddle and misunderstanding’ around specific areas of Britain’s laws on freedom of expression.

It explains there are legitimate ways the state restrains what we can say but the test for curtailing freedom of expression in law is a stringent one, and much that is offensive is still legal.

Freedom of expression can however be restricted in certain circumstances. For example, where it incites violence against others or promotes hatred based on the colour of someone’s skin or their sexual orientation or their religion.

Chief Executive Mark Hammond said: “The recent tragic events in Paris have again highlighted the importance of freedom of expression in our society. We have a long history of debating free speech in this country and the law recognises its value and importance.

“Today’s guidance aims to address any muddle and misunderstanding about the law. What goes beyond causing offence and promotes hatred is sometimes a fine line and the source of intense debate.

“As an expert body and National Human Rights Institution, we hope we can play an important role in helping public bodies to understand and navigate this complex area.”

The lecture took place as part of the University’s Public Lecture Series. Find out about the upcoming lectures.

Find more information on The Equality and Human Rights Commission.

If you missed the lecture, or would like to listen again, all of the previous lectures within the Public Lecture Series can be downloaded as podcasts on iTunes.

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Last edited: 30/06/2016 08:55:00