Saturday, November 11, 2006

Freedom of speech - hard cases make bad law

In the wake of the recent acquittal of leaders of the racist British National Party on charges of using language inciting racial hatred, the government is reported to be looking at strengthening the law in this area.

We already have too much law curtailing our freedom of speech. The government should just accept that Griffin and his acolytes benefited from a perverse verdict, and move on. Short of abolishing jury trials for race hate crime - and think of how many "martyrs" that is going to create! - it is hard to see what more could or should be done.

There are suggestions that the Leeds jury was unduly influenced by external matters - for instance, being shown (unbroadcast) TV documentaries about violent Muslim gangs, "proving" that what Griffin said about Islam was fair comment. The government itself is not innocent. Ruth Kelly, John Reid and now its head of counter-intelligence have all made speeches associating Islam with violence.

The great fear is that more draconian law is not going to be used only against people who stir up hatred against religious or racial groups, but also those who object openly against government policy.
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