Protected under Article 10

Andrew Tettenborn at The Critic tells us about a significant ruling at the ECHR on Tuesday:

Rita Pal is an ex-NHS psychiatrist, activist and journalist writing mainly on medical matters for the leftish press, such as the Huffington Post; for a time she also ran her own online paper, the World Medical Times. About ten years ago she had an argument with barrister and ex-journalist Andrew Bousfield, a supporter of Patients First (another NHS pressure group) and sometime Private Eye stringer who on occasion questioned her accuracy and objectivity.

The result was a bitter e-mail exchange. Bousfield went to the police alleging harassment, and in 2011 the Met sent Pal a so-called “prevention of harassment letter”, essentially putting her on notice of that complaint. Three years later Pal wrote an article attacking Bousfield’s competence and followed it with a number of vitriolic tweets which, while not naming Bousfield, could be read as referring to him. On this occasion the Met had had enough. It sent two officers to Pal’s house in Sutton Coldfield, arrested and handcuffed her, drove her to London and interviewed her for some hours before charging her with harassment and releasing her on bail on condition she wrote nothing referring to Bousfield. Eight months later the CPS dropped the case, on the grounds that Pal had said nothing not protected under Article 10 (the free speech provision) of the ECHR.

Pal tried suing the Met for wrongful arrest but failed. She then went to Strasbourg, saying that even though the actual charges had been dropped, her arrest itself had had a chilling effect on her freedom of speech. Here she succeeded. In the absence of clear evidence that the Met had thought seriously about protecting Pal’s freedom of speech, they had no business arresting her in such a way as would clearly discourage her from exercising her speech rights.

So does the same apply to Marion Millar? Ceri Black? Possibly.

… the days of the non-crime hate incident may now be numbered. This, readers may remember, refers to the practice of the police in recording against a person’s name anything said by that person if anyone else perceives it as motivated by hate, without ever asking whether this characterisation is actually plausible. The Free Speech Union and others have campaigned against this for some time, thus far with no noticeable commitment from the government. But since recording such incidents can cause real harms (if it appears on an enhanced CRB check, for example, it may prevent a person gaining employment in a sensitive field), one suspects the government may feel itself on thin legal ice in preserving the system.

May, or may just go right on sending Plod to drop a heavy hand on the shoulder of some evil feminist at her laptop.

One Response to “Protected under Article 10”

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting