Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press; Right to Peaceful Assembly

Although the right for "freedom of speech", "freedom of the press", and the right to "peaceful assembly" are self evident human rights, we cannot take it for granted that the government may not try to suppress these rights someday.  As such, these rights must be written into the UK Constitution.  

"Parliament shall ensure that the people have the right to freedom of speech, and of the press, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble, except as prescribed by law and is absolutely necessary for the public safety".  

edited on Apr 11, 2015 by John Z

John Z Apr 6, 2015

"Parliament shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petitition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Would anyone add or subtract from this statement? 

Raymond Wilson Apr 10, 2015

Seems ok but should there be Limitations as in Article 11 as qualified right and as such the right to protest and the freedom of association may be limited so long as the limitation:

    • does not infringe the protection of the rights and freedoms of others ?   I struggle to think of a situation but its in article 11 for a reason.

John Z Apr 10, 2015

Yes, you are correct, this "right" (and no other "right") is absolute.  Such a qualifier is required.

Tom Austin Apr 10, 2015

'The situation', I think I mentioned before, is where 'protest-placard' holders are kept apart from 'flag-wavers'. The cheerers and flag-wavers may line the streets, the protesters must congregate some distance away.

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Rob G Apr 10, 2015

I have a strong reluctance to use 18th century language in a constitution for the 21st century and beyond. "Abridging" now tends to mean "turning a long text into a shorter one", rather than "infringing on". Does "not abridging the freedom of the press" mean that it's wrong to expect the press not to lie, and to provide for compensation if they do? I believe our society is happier with laws criminalising incitement to hatred and violence than is the case in the United States - that needs to be reflected here. Does freedom of speech not need to be qualified to cover issues such as the privacy of an individual's medical records?

My concern is that having a short clause like this implies that the rights are absolute not qualified in any way. I'd also like to be able to distinguish between between the rights of people and entities; and if we can avoid "the spending of money" counting as speech, that would also be a good move!

Having said that, the equivalent provisions of the Convention have what seem to many of us to be excessive qualifications: "in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary", and no overt recognition of the value of "whistle-blowing" (though that's arguably "for the protection of the rights of others"). Understandable given that it was intended as a baseline for a number of countries with very different traditions, but not what we should be aspiring to.

I have to be off now, but I'll see what I can come up with for everyone to knock down later :-)

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John Z Apr 10, 2015

See above edit.

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Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

John, John! What have you done? There should be no 'or' in the above.

John Z Apr 11, 2015


Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

That works, as better would a semi-colon after, "have the right to;"

I think it probably best to introduce a (non exhaustive) list. Sorry John.

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Tom Austin Apr 10, 2015

'Free speech', often sounds upon my ear as, 'freeze peach'. Which is unfortunate, especially when associated with freedom of assembly, for it reminds me of Blair Peach; an Australian teacher 'murdered' by the Police in South London some years ago.

There was one other thing that I read today in the Telegraph online...

"Roger Hicks 

The Boat Race and Grand National show we're creatures of tradition

"We" . . ?

Will the Telegraph please stop addressing a "national we" which no longer exists - assuming that it ever did.

We cannot deal with our social and political problems in a rational and civilised fashion unless we face up to social and political reality.

Britain is not a nation, but a mercenary "patron state" deceitfully posing as a nation, in order to legitimise itself, its ruling elites and the immense power they wield, and use to procure the support of their clients.

I realise that this is a difficult, painful and frightening truth to recognise and face up to, but that is the challenge we face. If we don't face up to it, we will go the way of ancient Rome and Greece - only a lot faster."


I feel Mr. Hicks has correctly identified what we will be up against when this Constitution is being finalised.

John Z Apr 10, 2015

Well Tom, another issue that will be faced is the resistance to there being a Constitution at all. PM Cameron stated at the 11 February 2015 PMQ's (about 30 minutes into PMQ's) that there is no need for a UK Constitution;  no other major party MP objected to that statement.  

Rob G Apr 10, 2015

A couple of weeks later, he was slightly more ambiguous, at least about a "constitutional convention" - see Q64

But it would perhaps be extraordinary for the Conservative party to advocate such a significant departure from our past way of doing things... :)

John Z Apr 10, 2015

More ambiguous, yes;  but he does not seem to be promoting it.  It appears that he downplayed it as being nothing more than a smoke-screen to the "English Votes" issue. 

Rob G Apr 11, 2015

Well, if any party has benefited from the arrangements that have been in place since the Great Reform Act in 1832, it's the Conservative Party. Hardly a surprise they're not calling for wholesale change!

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

As any Constitution shall set 'limits' upon 'authority', and a Written Constitution set those limits for all to see. There is sure to be resistance from those who are as yet unfettered.

It has always seemed a better idea to sell this Constitution to the 'subjects', but even I here am having a hard time getting across the wonders of Citizenship - though I do have much more to say on this.

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John Z Apr 11, 2015

My preference is also for the rights to apply to "citizens", but I see that many in this project want it to apply to either ALL or legal residents.  

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Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

It is problematic to introduce differentials under the umbrella of Law, we do not want any sort of 'gentile verses jew'.

Rob G Apr 13, 2015

I certainly do: imagine a protest by asylum seekers complaining about the length of time government is taking to process their claims while leaving them with a subsistence level of income - a protest which asylum seekers were not allowed to attend because as non-citizens they don't have the right to protest.

John Z Apr 11, 2015

Both major parties may publicly support this OR be lukewarm towards a Constitution, but behind closed doors they both know that they will be detrimented with a Constitution.

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

Aye, here's the rub.

However, events might help us. If it was to dawn upon the electorate that the present Party/FPTP system was unfit the 'country' m,ay prove more amenable to change.

John Z Apr 11, 2015

But you realize that we "political junkies" are the minority;  most people I know outside of us "political junkies" find this utterly dull/corrupt/meaningless/etc....  Moreover, there is a huge portion of the population (non-politicians too) that benefit from the status quo;  change is a threat to those people.  Hence, don't expect change anytime soon.

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Mark Cooke Apr 15, 2015

As with other points,  I would argue for embedding the existing ECHR right wihtout tinkering with the wording.  Unless people can point to a specific problem with teh current right.

John Z Apr 15, 2015

What if HRA 1998 is repealed someday in the future?

Mark Cooke Apr 15, 2015

We're discussing embedding it in the constitution aren't we?

The argument I'm making is that rights will be better protected by using the EHCR , which us supported by international structures and extensive existing jurisprudence, rather than by creating new forms of words for essentially the same rights.   So mirroring the EHCR like the HRA does, but with the added security of entrenchment in the constitution, is the best way to go.

John Z Apr 16, 2015

Would you merely mirror the words of the ECHR, OR, would you actually reference the ECHR? 

Bob Stammers Apr 16, 2015

I would reference the ECHR directly. Let's not leave any wiggle room.

Mark Cooke Apr 16, 2015

I'd follow the approach of the HRA,  requiring UK to remain in ECHR, and annexing the actual convention rights.

The only changes from now would be:

1) Unlike HRA, could not be repealed by Parliament,  would require consitutional change

2) If courts declared legislation incompatible, it would result in actual annulment,  not just political/moral obligation to change it. (As it already does in Scotland, for example)


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Michael Griffith Apr 15, 2015

Let's bear in mind that human rights are intrinsic; no government has any remit to grant or withold human rights. So, the Constitution should talk about upholding human rights, not granting them.