Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance: Freedom of Expression

In February 2015, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published Freedom of Expression Legal Framework.

The new guidance includes the following key points:-

  • Freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also a fundamental right under common law
  • Protection under Article 10 extends to the expression of views that may shock, disturb or offend the deeply-held beliefs of others
  • Any restrictions on freedom of expression must always be clearly set out in law, necessary in a democratic society for a legitimate aim, and proportionate
  • Subject to these conditions, freedom of expression may be limited in certain circumstances, including in order to protect others from violence, hatred and discrimination
  • In particular, freedom of expression does not protect statements that discriminate against or harass, or incite violence or hatred against, other persons and groups, particularly by reference to their race, religious belief, gender or sexual orientation
  • The boundary between the expression of intolerant or offensive views and hate speech is not always an easy one to draw. However, a number of factors are likely to be relevant, including the intention of the person making the statement, the context in which they are making it, the intended audience, and the particular words used
  • Freedom of expression is protected more strongly in some contexts than others. In particular, a wide degree of tolerance is accorded to political speech and debate during election campaigns