Memoir ban 'threatens freedom of speech'

Memoir ban 'threatens freedom of speech'

Lawyers for free speech groups have argued that a ban placed on a performing artist preventing him from publishing his memoir is an “unpredictable threat to freedom of expression”.

The artist’s ex-wife was granted a temporary injunction after saying that the contents of the memoir would be distressing for his son to read. The artist cannot be identified for legal reasons, and his publisher is known only as STL during the case.

English PEN, Article 19, and Index on Censorship are supporting the artist in his appeal against the injuction, with lawyers telling the UK supreme court in a written submission yesterday (Monday 19th January) that preventing the man from publishing his memoir has opened up “a new, substantial and unpredictable threat to freedom of expression”, reported the Guardian.

The temporary injunction was imposed pending a civil trial over the book, which contains descriptions of the sexual abuse suffered by the artist as a child. The artist’s ex-wife argued the descriptions of sexual abuse were so disturbing that their son would "suffer catastrophic psychological distress" if he were to read it, said the newspaper.

The Guardian reported that the artist’s son, who lives in another, unidentified country with his mother, has a number of health problems, although the nature of some of these problems is disputed.

The Supreme Court is examining the way an earlier ruling that publication of the book could amount to a civil wrong, established by a piece of Victorian case law – Wilkinson v Downton – in which a man who played a practical joke on an east London pub landlady in 1897 was found to be liable for intentionally inflicting mental distress.

Antony White QC, for the artist’s publisher, said that the appeal court was wrong to rule that Wilkinson v Downton extended beyond the use of false words or threats to true statements. He also said of the temporary injunction: “A gag is gag, even if it is subsequently removed.”

The artist’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC, said the ban on the book “prevents a high-profile victim of sexual abuse from giving his own account of what had happened to him and how he survived”.

Matthew Nicklin QC, for the artist’s son, said that the artist was reneging on an agreement made around the time of the divorce from his ex-wife in 2009 “to use his ‘best endeavours to protect the child from any information concerning [his] past previous history…which would have a detrimental affect on the child’s wellbeing’”.

The hearing continues.