Judges in the UK have ruled that freedom of speech includes the ‘right to offend’.
The landmark ruling means that a feminist, who called a transgender woman a ‘pig in a wig’ and a ‘man’, will face no repercussions for her words.
In a decision handed down last week in the Court of Appeal, Justice Warby and Lord Justice Bean ruled that ‘Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having’.
The judges said ‘free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another’.
The appeal ruled in favour of Katherine Scottow, a mother-of-two from Hertfordshire.
The case dates back to 2018, when Scottow was arrested for referring to a trans woman, Stefanie Hayden, as a man, a ‘racist’ and a ‘pig in the wig’ online.
Hayden reported the comments to the police, who arrested Scottow at her home early 2019. At the time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as an abuse of manpower and police facilities.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, he said: ‘Are you really telling me that it is a sensible ordering of priorities to round up Twitter-borne transphobes and chuck them in the clink, when violence on the streets would seem to be getting out of control?’
Following the arrest, Scottow was handed a two-year conditional discharge from police custody and ordered to pay £1,000 in compensation for violating the 2003 Communications Act.
Scottow was accused of ‘significant online abuse’ by deliberately ‘misgendering’ Hayden and referring to her as ‘he’ and ‘him’.
Hayden had alleged that Scottow misgendered her ‘to annoy people like me’. She said it was a calculated attempt to violate her dignity as a woman.
At the time, judge Margaret Dodds said: ‘Your comments contributed nothing to a debate. We teach children to be kind to each other and not to call each other names in the playground.’
In overturning Dodds’ decision, Warby said that the Communications Act was ‘not intended by Parliament to criminalise forms of expression, the content of which is no worse than annoying or inconvenient in nature’.
Bean said the appeal highlighted the need for the judiciary in the criminal justice system to consider the issue of freedom of speech when handing down decisions.
Hayden, an activist for trans rights, also won a case at the High Court in April 2019 which forced Mumsnet to reveal the identity of an anonymous user who had allegedly been bullying her online.
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