Sunday, November 14, 2010

When the law really is an Ass

Michael Harris at Left Foot Forward is spot on here with his analysis about the recent twittergate debacles. Paul Chambers and Tory Cllr Gareth Compton are stupid, arrogant and thoughtless - but not criminals.

"Even free speech fundamentalists agree with US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s point that free speech would not protect an idiot who shouted fire in a crowded theatre and caused a panic. Though as one of the most ardent free speech campaigners alive today, Aryeh Neier, points out in Index on Censorship magazine (“Radio Redux”):
“… the stress on circumstances is crucial. If the theatre were empty at the time, there would be no panic and, therefore, in Holmes’s judgement, no basis for punishing the false shout of fire.”
English law now seems to suggest that merely to shout fire is enough to initiate a prosecution – which is utterly chilling for free expression".

Such hard cases make for bad legal outcomes.  The UK Justice system is in danger of making itself a laughing stock over this issue.


Amanda Kendal said...

Excellent piece, John. Interesting that some of the commentators on Left Foot Forward really don't 'get it' either.

John Gray said...

Hi Sybarite

The argument really belongs to Michael.

Yes, it is interesting that some commentators think being stupid is now a criminal offence. But they are commentators not contributors I suppose.