“Freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving’ – judge

Another valuable article appears today in the Daily Mail.  The context is a curious system of secret ‘family’ courts who take children from families but may not be reported by the press.  This evil seems peculiar to Britain, and the details may be read in the article.   The new judge in charge of the system, Sir James Munby, is reforming the system.

But Sir James went on to make a number of statements which deserve much wider notice.

As part of a ruling against secrecy in the  family courts, Sir James declared: ‘Freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving’.

….

Sir James, who is president of the Family  Division of the High Court, said the Press was necessary to ensure scrutiny of  the courts and that occasional bad behaviour by some journalists had to be  tolerated.

If Press criticism ‘exceeds what is lawful’  there are already laws to deal with that.

‘It is not the role of the judge to seek to  exercise any kind of editorial control over the manner in which the media  reports information which it is entitled to publish,’ he said. ‘Comment and  criticism may be ill informed and based on misunderstanding or misrepresentation  of the facts.

‘The fear of such criticism, however  justified the fear may be, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior  restraint by injunction.’

He also stood up for the rights of tabloid  newspapers to express criticism in ‘intemperate language’.

‘If there is no basis for injuncting a story  expressed in the temperate or scholarly language of a legal periodical or the  broadsheet press, there can be no basis for injuncting the same story simply  because it is expressed in the more robust, colourful or intemperate language of  the tabloid press or even in language which is crude, insulting and  vulgar.

‘The publicist … may be an unprincipled  charlatan seeking to manipulate public opinion by feeding it tendentious  accounts of the proceedings. But freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving.’

Unlike Lord Leveson, he emphasised the  ‘enormous challenges’ posed by the internet ‘The law must develop and adapt,  as it always has done down the years in response to other revolutionary  technologies.’

Privacy law, developed by judges and based on  the Human Rights Act, has encouraged increasing numbers of celebrities to apply  for injunctions concealing embarrassing stories about themselves.

I think that the point about intemperate language is important.   Powerful pressure groups have arranged for “anti-hate” laws to be published.  These have the effect of making it dangerous to criticise those groups, and very dangerous to do so in an unguarded way.  The judge is right to point out that this is nonsense.

Let us hope that this is the first signs of a new and more liberal approach to free speech in Britain.

There is, however, some way to go.  At the foot of the article we find the words: “Sorry we are unable to accept comments for legal reasons.”

I can think of no good reason why we, the public, should be unable to comment on this subject.

2 Responses to ““Freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving’ – judge”


  1. Neo

    Good article, well said. And good on Sir James, may we all develop more like him.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I thought so. Let us hope that he is one of a new breed of judges coming through, rather than merely a survival of the older, more honest, judiciary.