Due to English PEN’s various free speech campaigns, I’ve been cited in a couple of print publications recently. I welcomed Jack Straw’s announcements on libel reform in The Bookseller, and celebrated a minor victory on Criminal Memoirs for Inside Time. There doesn’t seem to be a permalink for the latter article, so I’m reproducing it below.
Small victory for freedom of speech campaign
The Government has made some concessions at the eleventh hour on the ‘Criminal Memoirs’ law. Robert Sharp, Campaigns Manager of English PEN reports.
The Government’s new law on ‘criminal memoirs’ sought to seize any profits that ex-offenders might earn from writing about their crimes. The measures were so broad that many organisations running rehabilitation programmes felt that their work would be threatened.
However, at the eleventh hour, the Government made two important amendments to the Bill: First, it reduced the scope of the law to include only indictable offences, which limits the reach of the measurers. Secondly, it removed public outrage as a trigger for action, ensuring that former prisoners – turned – writers would not be the subject of a tabloid witch-hunt. Nevertheless, the measures have now become law, placing restrictions on what former prisoners can publish.
The new law is (Ministers say) meant to stop a very small number of people glorifying their crimes and the concessions made to our campaign make it less likely that someone writing honest memoirs would be affected.
It would be an appalling blow for freedom of expression in the UK if former prisoners were discouraged from writing. If this new law caused writers to censor their work, it would remove an important voice from the ongoing debate over penal reform.
The campaign by English PEN has always argued that freedom of speech is a fundamental right that should be available to everyone, regardless of the amount of time they might have spent in prison. We have also argued that this confusing and confused new law will harm not help the rehabilitation of offenders. Yet the amendments we have won to the Bill are, we think, a small victory for our campaign.
English PEN is part of an international association of writers, who campaign to promote literature and defend free expression worldwide. Their ‘Readers & Writers’ programme, running writing workshops in UK prisons, is expanding to more institutions in 2010.