Law Commission follows our recommendation to scrap Malicious Communications Act

A supporter protests outside the trial of comedian Mark Meechan who was prosecuted under the Communications Act for making a “grossly offensive” YouTube video.

Last year, we submitted evidence to a consultation by the Law Society of England and Wales about the law governing harmful, threatening, and false communications, telling the Commission we thought the existing law was far too censorious, particularly the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. (It was this section which resulted in the prosecution of the comedian Mark Meechan for being “grossly offensive” after he made a YouTube video about his efforts to teach his girlfriend’s pug to give a Nazi salute.) We urged the Commission to scrap those offences and we’re pleased to see that it is following our advice. In a report published last month, which refers to the evidence submitted by the FSU repeatedly, the Commission recommended replacing those offences with a new “harm-based” communications offence, whereby it would no longer be enough to show a communicant caused annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to secure a prosecution; in future, the Crown would need to show that they deliberately intended to cause non-trivial psychological or physical harm. In addition, we urged the Commission to exempt journalists and media companies from communications offences and it has followed this advice, too.

While we’re glad to see so many of our recommendations adopted, we do have some reservations about the Commission’s proposals. We’re concerned about overly broad definitions of the word “harm”. As a bare minimum, no one should be prosecuted for a given communication unless it can be shown beyond doubt it caused real harm to a person of reasonable firmness. On a platform like Twitter, for instance, which has 330 million monthly active users, a message may cause one of those individuals non-trivial psychological harm because they are particularly psychologically fragile. But it wouldn’t be fair to prosecute a communicant on that basis.

You can see our press release on the Law Commission’s proposals here. Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council has written for the Critic about the Commission’s report, and FSU Research Director Dr Radomir Tylecote spoke to GB News about what the proposals would mean for free speech, highlighting some of the absurd cases that have come before the courts in recent years.

Hatun Tash’s rights must be protected

Following the knife attack on the Christian preacher and FSU member Hatun Tash at Speakers’ Corner last month, we have written again to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick CBE, urging the Met to do more to protect Ms Tash’s right to free speech:

We accept that policing the capital with necessarily limited resources is a difficult job. As such, we recognise that there is a practical limit to the protection the police can offer to Ms Tash. However we believe that the duty in Fáber v. Hungary is clearly engaged in this case. The Met must therefore make clear to Ms Tash, if it hasn’t already, the steps it proposes to take in order to facilitate her right to speak in Hyde Park. In addition, the Met should make clear to the public, in general terms, how it proposes to carry out its positive duty to protect freedom of speech against intimidatory violence from those seeking to silence others.

You can find a record of our correspondence with the Met about Hatun Tash here and watch her being interviewed on GB News by former FSU Director Inaya Folarin Iman here.

Free speech and the war over sex and gender

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex and author of Material Girls. We spoke about the transgender debate and the silencing of gender critical feminists who speak out in defence of women’s sex-based rights. One of the most revealing things she talked about was what she referred to as “reverse Voltaire”, whereby her colleagues would support her in private but side with those condemning her in public. It was the opposite of the principle that’s usually attributed to Voltaire, namely, “I disagree profoundly with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In Kathleen’s case, it was, “I agree profoundly with what you have to say, but I will defend the right to no-platform you for saying it.”

The entire interview can be seen on our YouTube channel. FSU members are invited to all of our regular Speakeasies. The next one, scheduled for September, will be with comedian Graham Linehan. Sign-up as a member today.

Gender critical women forced out of politics

We are continuing to support our member Natalie Bird, who was barred from seeking office by the Liberal Democrats for 10 years after she wore a t-shirt bearing the slogan: “woman: adult human female.” The Lib Dems decided this statement of fact was “transphobic” and Natalie is now raising money to fight a legal battle against the party. Women who oppose trans ideology are being silenced, threatened and hounded out of politics. Help Natalie fight back by contributing to her fundraiser here.

Incidentally, it isn’t just women who are punished for raising doubts about militant trans ideology. Another of our members, James Esses, has been sacked as a volunteer at Childline and kicked off his five-year psychotherapy course for expressing reservations about encouraging children who identify as trans to undergo irreversible, life-changing medical procedures. He is now raising money to bring a case against his course provider. You can read about James’s case in the Mail on Sunday and contribute to his fundraiser here.

FSU member Rebekah Wershbale labelled “transphobe” in Labour Party training material for wearing “woman: adult human female” t-shirt

We have written to Sir Keir Starmer urging him to intervene after a member of ours, Rebekah Wershbale, discovered she is being used in a Labour Party training course as an example of a “transphobe” because she was banned from a pub for wearing a t-shirt saying “woman: adult human female”. We assisted Rebekah in securing the training material in question, which was produced by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, Momentum, The World Transformed, and the Labour Party LGBT+ Network as “trans political education” for party activists. The course appears to have been used all over the country by constituency parties.

Once we secured the training material, the course’s creator tried to stop Rebekah from sharing it on spurious copyright grounds – even though her name and photograph were used without her permission.

Rebekah said: “When the seriousness of the situation dawned on me I was horrified. To be singled-out as an example of a transphobic bully by someone I’d never even met or even interacted with was very disturbing, especially given that they used my name and photo. We know very well what happens to women in those crosshairs. We receive actual, real threats of violence and threats to our livelihood. Not just the vague threats of potential ‘misgendering’ or dogwhistling we’re accused of. How many people have gone through this course and seen my name and photo as an example of ‘transphobia’?

“My question is, who is being bullied here? I had no idea my name and image were being used in this way. Accusations of ‘transphobia’ have turned women’s lives upside down. I’m alarmed that this has been greenlit by the Labour Party, knowing what the potential backlash is for women in my position who refuse to play the game of pretend, and who stand up for women’s rights and biological reality.”

You can see Rebekah being interviewed about this on GB News here.

FSU member Nick Buckley talks to GB News about cancel culture

Last year, Nick Buckley MBE was fired from the award-winning charity he founded after he wrote a blog questioning the ideology behind the Black Lives Matter organisation. With our assistance he was reinstated, and the trustees who had forced him out resigned one by one. He spoke to Colin Brazier and the comedian Andrew Doyle, a member of our Advisory Council, on GB News about his experience of cancel culture.

FSU New Zealand wins plaudits

Our New Zealand sister organisation has won plaudits for commissioning research on public opinion about the country’s proposed new hate speech law (similar to Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act.) Forty three per cent of New Zealanders support the proposals, with 31% opposed and 15% undecided.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand FSU has taken up the case of Dr Raymond Richards, an historian at the University of Waikato who faces disciplinary action after he referred to flat earthers as “cranks”. A student complained and the HR department wrote to him saying it did “not expect to have a repeat of these matters”. An open letter from the New Zealand Free Speech Union has defended Dr Richards’ right to academic freedom.

Free Speech Champions attend Institute of Ideas event in Westminster

The Free Speech Champions – a group of young free speech advocates jointly sponsored by the FSU and the Battle of Ideas charity – were out in force at Open For Debate, a one-day festival organised by the Academy of Ideas on 31 July. We offered our members special discounted tickets to the event and FSU representatives were there on the day to meet attendees. The FSU and the Free Speech Champions sponsored the closing discussion of the day entitled: “How can we combat campus cancel culture?” The FSU will be collaborating with the Academy of Ideas on a two-day festival in October.

Thank you for your support of the FSU. We’re aiming to reach 10,000 members by the end of the year, so spread the word.

Kind regards,

Toby Young