Posted on December 18, 2021

New Free Speech Law to Protect Against Wokery and Cancel Culture

Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, December 14, 2021

Freedom of speech is to be enshrined in a new British bill of rights to protect against wokery, political correctness and the advance of European-style privacy laws.

Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, wants the “quintessentially British” human right of freedom of expression to be given “extra weight”, because of his concerns that it is being whittled away by privacy concerns and the rise of “cancel culture”.

His proposed new Bill, to be foreshadowed in a consultation paper on Tuesday, will reinforce the primacy of Parliament to protect free speech against the “back door” introduction of privacy laws through court cases, such as the Duchess of Sussex’s legal victory over the Mail on Sunday.

It also follows public figures being barred from speaking at universities and other institutions because of their outspoken views. In the most recent case, Rod Liddle, the columnist,  was “cancelled” by students when he started speaking at Durham University.

Ministers are looking to see what lessons could be learned from other countries with fierce freedom of speech laws, such as the US with its first amendment, and South Africa’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.

“However unedifying someone’s views, they have a right to articulate them within the bounds of decency and other laws,” said a source.

“It is making sure we don’t go down the route of cancel culture, where people feel they cannot speak freely because of fear of recriminations.

“Dominic feels very strongly that the parameters of free speech and democratic debate are being whittled away, whether it’s a privacy issue or wokery and political correctness.”

Freedom of speech bill will enable ‘vigorous democratic debate’

Writing in The Telegraph, Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, said the Bill would “strengthen” the right to freedom of expression and “preserve space for wide and vigorous democratic debate”.

She added: “We propose that the Bill should make clear the utmost importance attached to this right, and that in balancing competing rights the courts should only interfere with it where there are exceptional reasons to do so.”

The new Bill, overhauling the current Human Rights Act, will also enshrine another “quintessential British” right to a jury trial. However, this will be balanced by restrictions on criminals’ ability to use human rights laws to evade deportation or secure their release from jail.

Foreign criminals convicted of certain serious crimes, or who have served lengthy sentences, will no longer be able to block their deportation by claiming it breaches their Article 8 rights to a family life. These account for 70 per cent of successful appeals against removal from the UK.

They even included one where the offender had assaulted his partner and paid no child maintenance to support his family, but still successfully appealed deportation. Mr Raab said the reforms would prevent abuses and add “a healthy dose of common sense”.

‘Filter’ to weed out ‘spurious’ human rights claims

The reforms by the Government will pave the way for an overhaul of the Parole Board, by placing the protection of public safety above the rights of criminals to be freed from jail.

Mr Raab is proposing a new “filter” to weed out “spurious” human rights cases before they get to court. All cases will have to get permission to be heard by the courts, with those deemed to be without merit barred from being put before judges.

The Ministry of Justice expects a “significant number” to fall foul of the new test conducted by judges to prevent court time being wasted and put the focus on “genuine, credible” cases.

Mr Raab proposes ending the duty of courts to take into account Strasbourg case law, freeing them to base decisions on UK tradition and law. Lawmakers will also be empowered to interpret European court rulings against the UK in a way that respects country’s laws and traditions.

For example, although European courts upheld the rights of prisoners to vote, the UK only allowed it to be extended to offenders on home detention curfews.