Employment Tribunals: The New Free Speech Front Line

Back in February I wrote a post on the judgment of the Employment Tribunal in Seyi Omooba v Michael Garret Associates Ltd. The main conclusion: Employment Tribunals have become the free speech front line.

Last week I went to look for the post in order to tweet it at Sean Jones QC (see above), only to discover I had never actually published it!

I have now made it live and it appears further down this blog’s timeline. You can read it here.

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Libel Justice for Nowy Czas

Nowy Czas is a newspaper that serves the Polish community of London. It is edited by Grzegorz and Teresa Malkiewicz.

Back in 2015 they published an article about a businessman. They discussed his historic business dealings and bankruptcy, and expressed concern at his involvement with two charitable organisations: The POSK cultural centre in Hammersmith, and the Kolbe House Care home in Ealing.

The gentleman in question sued the newspaper for libel, and the case was heard in 2017. Nowy Czas successfully defended the article, using the defences of ‘substantial truth’ (Defamation Act 2013, section 2) and ‘public interest’ (section 4).

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Notes on #Batley

Protest at Batley Grammar School

Last week, a controversy erupted in Batley, Yorkshire, after a teacher showed his class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, during a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2015.

The school has many Muslim students and some of their parents were angry at the teacher for having done this. As we are all probably aware by now, some branches of Islam (not all) consider any depiction of the Prophet to be undesirable and blasphemous.

Where there is an alleged blasphemy, free speech rights are engaged, and people like me become motivated to opine. In this particular case, I was not so much motivated as mobilised: TalkRADIO called me at short notice to chat to Kevin O’Sullivan about it. Here’s our conversation, the first draft of my thoughts on the matter.

There is more to say, however. As I have come to realise whenever such controversies kick-off, there are usually several issues rolled up in the debate. I think it’s more intellectually honest to post ‘notes’ on what those issues are, rather than posting a piece of unequivocal click-bait that condemns one side or the other.

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How Legal Drafting Chills Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly

Borrowed from @jamesdmorris twitter feed.

Parliament begins to debate the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today. Following the scenes of heavy-handed policing at the vigil for Sarah Everard this weekend, there is perhaps a greater degree of attention being paid to the proposals than the government may have hoped for. The measures to update the common law offence of nuisance are a particular focus for those of us worried about state encroachment into civil liberties. Doing something that might annoy someone else should not be the basis of a criminal offence that carries a ten-year prison sentence.

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Speaking at the Muslim Council of Britain on Islamophobia and Free Speech

MCB Online event

On Tuesday evening I participated in the launch of Defining Islamophobia: A Contemporary Understanding of How Expressions of Muslimness are Targeted, a report published by the Muslim Council of Britain.

I wrote a short article for inclusion in the report, explaining why I think the new definition of Islamophobia that the report recommends would be a good thing for free speech. Ambiguity is the ally of censorship, and so a narrower definition of Islamophobia — one that is rooted in racism, rather than an opposition to Islamic ideas and theology — should reduce the chill on free speech.

The full report may be downloaded from the MCB website, and the launch event is available to view on Facebook. My contribution, where I expand on some of the issues I raise in my article, is at around 29 minutes.

Update

I also published the text of my article on SSRN.