The Supreme Court has today (20th May) overturned an injunction preventing the publication of a memoir by classical pianist James Rhodes, in what has been described as a “victory for freedom of speech”.
The decision has been welcomed by Canongate, Rhodes’ publisher, which was named as a co-defendant in the court case brought by Rhodes’ ex-wife, and also welcomed by freedom of speech organisations.
Rhodes’ ex-wife had said that publication of the book, called Instrumental, would cause psychological harm to their son, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia and dysgraphia.
Rhodes could not be named as the subject of the court proceedings until today.
Instrumental is an account of Rhodes’ childhood, in which he was the victim of sexual abuse, and how it impacted his adult life. He recounts the role of music and how it saved him from self-harm, addiction and suicide.
Rhodes’ ex-wife was granted a temporary injunction preventing release of the book in January this year, a move that English PEN, Article 19, and Index on Censorship said was an “unpredictable threat to freedom of expression”.
Lady Hale and Lord Toulson from the Supreme Court today ruled: “Freedom to report the truth is a basic right… There can be no justification for keeping secret the information contained in this book…the only proper conclusion is that there is every justification for the publication.”
Canongate c.e.o. Jamie Byng said the decision was a “vindication of Canongate’s firmly held belief in the individual’s right to freedom of expression and specifically of our belief in James Rhodes’s brave and important book, Instrumental”.
“The significance and value of this inspiring memoir that engages with abuse and the redemptive power of music to heal is hard to overstate,” he continued. “And the honesty with which he writes about his experiences is humbling.”
Rhodes said: “Clearly this is a victory for freedom of speech. More importantly it is a powerful message to survivors of sexual abuse. There is already too much stigma and shame surrounding mental health and sexual abuse, and although I am horrified that it has taken 14 months of overwhelming stress and expense, I am relieved that our justice system has finally seen sense and not only allowed me to tell my story but affirmed in the strongest possible way that speaking up about ones own life is a basic human right. I hope the book will help fellow survivors of rape find the courage to speak up. And I hope it will inspire those in pain to find solace in music and togetherness.”
Canongate’s solicitor, Martin Soames of Simons Muirhead & Burton, said the decision was "significant" for freedom of speech and for all publishers. He said: "Had the injunction been maintained it would have had a serious chilling effect on the publication of any contentious non-fiction. People need to be able to tell the truth about themselves, but their stories would remain unheard if publishers were unwilling to take the risk of publishing them.
“This judgment is a resounding endorsement of James Rhodes’ exceptional courage in telling his story, and also Canongate’s commitment in bringing it to the public.”
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: ‘This an important judgment overturning an injunction that not only prevented the public from reading a powerful book of wide interest, but posed a significant threat to freedom of expression more broadly. It’s encouraging to see the Supreme Court’s clear and unequivocal support for free speech.”
Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19, said: “ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision. We have long argued that injunctions to prevent publication are inherently dangerous for freedom of expression and democracy, and must be recognised as prior-censorship which can only be justified in exceptional circumstances. This was not such a case and we appreciate that the Court properly weighted the right to freedom of expression with other interests.”
Canongate will now publish the Instrumental e-book on Monday (25th May) and a £16.99 hardback on Thursday 28th May.