Archaic blasphemy laws weakened by Jerry Springer ruling

05 December 2007

In a third-party intervention, human rights group Liberty said that free speech rights must protect sacred, profane and secular language alike.

Liberty’s Legal Officer Anna Fairclough said:

“Today’s ruling is a blow to bigotry which rightly raises the bar significantly for blasphemy prosecutions. The obvious next step is to repeal this out-dated offence.”

Stephen Green of Christian Voice sought the prosecution against Jonathan Thoday, the producer of the award-winning musical and Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC, which broadcast the show in January 2005. Green was initially denied permission to prosecute by the City of Westminster magistrates’ court. His appeal against that decision was dismissed by the High Court today.

In the judgment, Lord Justice Hughes said that the “…crime of blasphemous libel is material relating to the Christian religion, or its figures or formularies, so scurrilous and offensive in manner that it undermines society generally, by endangering the peace, depraving public morality, shaking the fabric of society or tending to be a cause of civil strife…”

Liberty argued that the offence of blasphemy violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects free speech and that blasphemy should be decriminalised in English law because of its lack of legal certainty (as has been held by the Irish Supreme Court in Corway v Independent Newspapers [2000]).

Blasphemous libel claims can be brought against the publication of any matter that insults, offends, or vilifies the Deity or Christ or the Christian religion. Whether the publication intends to be blasphemous is irrelevant in blasphemous libel claims.

Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128

Notes to Editors

1. The High Court heard the application of Stephen Green and the City of Westminster Magistrates Court and John Murray Thoday and Mark Thompson and Liberty on 20 November 2007. For a copy of Liberty’s intervention contact

2. The Council of Europe recommended in June 2007 that blasphemy should be decriminalised, as did the Law Commission in a report in 1985.

3. The last successful prosecution using blasphemy law was brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, about a Roman soldier’s love for Christ.

4. The award-winning Jerry Springer – the Opera, was performed at theatres around Britain from October 2003 to July 2006.