Article 10: Free expression

We have the right to express ourselves freely and hold our own opinions – even if our views are unpopular or could upset or offend others.

Article 14 of the Human Rights Act protects a right that’s fundamental to our democracy – our freedom of expression is fundamental to our democracy.

It means we’re free to hold opinions and ideas and to share them with others without the State interfering.

Liberty and other human rights groups have used Article 10 to challenge the UK Government’s mass surveillance – which scoops up all our correspondence, putting our rights to privacy, free expression and protest and our free press in jeopardy. 

Article 10 also protects your right to communicate and express yourself in any medium – including through words, pictures and actions. It’s often used to defend press freedom and protect journalists’ sources.

This right covers:

  • Political expression – including peaceful protests and demonstrations
  • Artistic expression
  • Commercial expression – particularly when it also raises matters of legitimate public debate and concern.

The right to free expression would be meaningless if it only protected certain types of expression. So Article 10 protects both popular and unpopular expression – including speech that might shock others – subject to certain limitations.

Limitations

Article 10 may be limited in certain circumstances. Any limitation must:

  • be covered by law
  • be necessary and proportionate
  • be for one or more of the following aims:
    • national security, territorial integrity or public safety
    • preventing disorder or crime
    • protecting health
    • protecting other people's reputation or rights
    • preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence
    • maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

When considering whether free expression should be limited, courts will question whether doing so could have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, the value of the particular form of expression and the medium used.

Limiting free expression usually involves restrictions on publication, penalties for publication, requiring journalists to reveal their sources, imposing disciplinary measures or confiscating material.

David Miranda's story

David Miranda was detained by police at Heathrow Airport for nine hours in August 2013.

He was questioned under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and freed only when officers reached the legal time limit for either arresting or releasing him. His electronic equipment was confiscated and he was questioned for hours without a lawyer present.

Miranda is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who had recently written several stories about the Snowden surveillance revelations for The Guardian. He was helping Greenwald with this work and was on his way back to their home after meeting with a filmmaker, also working on the surveillance revelations, when he was detained.

The ostensible purpose of the stop was to determine what information Miranda was carrying and ascertain whether its release or dissemination would be severely damaging to UK national security interests. The Court found that this purpose did fall properly within Schedule 7 of the 2000 Act.

Liberty intervened in the case, arguing that it was a violation of Article 10 that Schedule 7 could be used in this way. The Judge accepted that the stop constituted an indirect interference with press freedom – but held that the interference was justified and found it lawful.