By Guest Blogger, on 4 November 2011
The UCL Jurisprudence Review launched its 17th volume by hosting a 1 November debate on ‘The Normative Value of Free Speech and Privacy’. Napoleon Emm. Xanthoulis reports.
In her opening address, Dean of UCL Laws, Professor Dame Hazel Genn, acknowledged the Review’s proud and enduring legacy of scholarship and its significant contribution to legal philosophy. She congratulated the editorial board for another successful volume showcasing the best of original and thought-provoking student writing in legal philosophy across the UK.
A number of distinguished speakers from judicial, academic and legal practice backgrounds were invited to share their views on the contemporary issues raised by the intersection of the concepts of freedom of expression and privacy.
The event’s chair, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury (Master of the Rolls) appreciated that “the carriers of a right to free speech hold duties as well”. In addition, he noted that the ability to claim effective judicial protection in cases of violation of privacy is restricted, to some extent, only to those who can afford the undoubtedly high court and legal fees that apply, and this constitutes a serious problem of our judicial system.
Professor Eric Barendt (UCL Laws) opened his speech by emphasising that “the concept of privacy in Britain is so uncertain that we do not even know how to pronounce it”. He also added that it involves “a certain amount of hypocrisy since in our public and social life we do not admit or always say the truth about our emotions”. Furthermore, Professor Barendt focused on the “need to draw a distinction between the freedom of press and the right of an individual to expression” but nevertheless, he warned that “some arguments developed around the right to speech cannot apply to the freedom of press, such as the right to self-development.”
Professor Leslie Green (University of Oxford) discussed the rights and duties that arise within the concept of free speech. He argued that “duties fall not only to speakers but also to listeners” and that “when we express our right to free speech we need to keep in mind the self-limitations that should be applied, such as the limitations of time, manner and place”. In addition, Professor Green responded positively to the question of whether it is possible for a right and a duty to speak to exist simultaneously by arguing that this is similar to the recognised co-existence of both a right and a duty to vote.
A more practical approach was presented by Charlotte Harris (Mishcon de Reya). “Nowadays it does not take a lot to be famous and it is easy for someone to be considered among the category of public persons that according to one view should not enjoy the privileges of privacy”, she suggested.
Mrs Harris argued that “individuals and tabloids seem to want the same thing, i.e. private lives … indeed, tabloids need us to have a private life since their existence and commercial value depends on it”. Finally, Mrs Harris concluded by saying that “Britain does not seem to want unelected commercial entities, such as tabloids, deciding whether in a certain case privacy should be protected.”
The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Sedley delivered the final presentation of the event in which he explained that free speech never gave a “right not to be lied to” since such a concept should undoubtedly be considered to be a moral rather than a legal right. He further focused on the current level of protection of the right to privacy and concluded that “the Courts need to consider the effects on someone’s life when his private life is published through a tabloid”.