Parliamentary committee launches inquiry into freedom of expression

Parliamentary committee launches inquiry into freedom of expression

The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has opened an inquiry into the issue of freedom of expression, in part seeking to address if hate speech law is in need of an update. It is inviting interested parties to contribute written evidence by 6th December.

The inquiry asks respondents to consider a number of questions, including whether hate speech law needs updating or clarification, “as shifting social attitudes lead some to consider commonly held views hateful”, and whether police practice in relation to hate speech law currently helps to promote freedom of expression.

Participants submitting written evidence are asked to consider if wording for the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) legislation–introduced in 2014, as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act, to help councils tackle anti-social behaviour–ought to be changed.

The obligation of employees to their employer when expressing views on social media, and the extent to which employers can and should respond to what their employees say on these platforms, is to be scrutinised too. 

Another focus is how the situation has changed in universities in the two years since the committee’s last report on the issue. 

The 2017 inquiry into the state of free speech in UK universities identified concerns around potential self-censorship as a result of the Prevent duty guidance, and flagged intolerant attitudes and violent protest as potential obstacles to free speech, as well as grey areas in existing laws and guidance, leading to the publication of new guidance on freedom of expression for higher education providers in 2019 by the Equality & Human Rights Commission.

“Is greater clarity required to ensure the law is understood and fair?” and “Does everyone have equal protection of their right to freedom of expression?” are other questions. 

The inquiry launched on 6th November and the deadline for written submissions (of no more than 1,500 words) is a month later, on 6th December 2020.