With recent news that Jihadi fighters could be let back into the UK for 're-integration', but young white foreign commentators have the might of anti-terrorism laws pitted against them to permanently bar them from the UK, many people have questioned whether free speech exists in the UK.

Let's put one thing straight right from the start. You either have the freedom to say exactly what you want, when you want, to whom you want through any medium you want – which is free speech or more accurately free expression because it covers all types of communication, or you do not – which is controlled speech.

If the police can use the law of the land to prevent you from saying something, then you live in a land of controlled speech. Which do you think more accurately reflects the state of play in the UK today?

So let's see what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights born in 1948 from the horrors of the Second World War, says about this.

In its preamble it makes a very strong point:

"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."

So the law should be there to protect our rights including that of the freedom of expression, we should not be forced into violence to protect them for ourselves – usually taking them back from the state.

And in Article 19 it says:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Seems pretty clear cut until you learn that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a UN resolution so is not binding on nations.

No, it is a sort of vision statement, a dream, an 'if the world was perfect' thing.

Then the politicians and lawyers get hold of it and produce Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and also Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of these are binding as I understand it.

Both documents start off in a similar vein to the vision put forward by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but then add on that the right of freedom of expression carries responsibilities, so it can be restricted so as to respect the rights or reputations of others and to protect such things as national security.

So already the state has the legal means it needs to control free speech for the needs of the state.

In the UK there are many laws to prevent people inciting violence or other crimes for example through expression – all seemingly sensible stuff. But at what point does mere criticism become 'hate' in the modern parlance and so then incitement?

And more importantly, who decides where those lines are drawn and who they apply to?

But there are other considerations as well.

Let's take a look at the oath that all police officers, from the chief constable down to the constable on the beat, swears to before they can be issued with their warrant card:

"I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people;

"and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law."

So while the oath talks about human rights they are to be applied as the last few words says 'faithfully according to law' – that would be UK law I assume.

But the bit to really take note of is in the middle: "…and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property"

This seems to me to be aimed at keeping the physical peace, preventing riots and violence against the person as well as damage to property and theft.

So, if the police are presented with a few people openly and peacefully stating a truth to a hostile crowd and the police fear that an affray is coming, what do you think they will do? Uphold the rights of the speakers?

Or defuse the situation by shutting the speakers down, or even by stopping them getting anywhere near their platform in the first place? It seems that the latter approach is the preferred one – less cost, fewer assets needed etc.

Once again, it may seem a sensible approach to you, until it stops you making your views known.

And further, could it encourage the police to always take the path of least resistance by shutting down those they see as the easy target, which could in the long run actually back-fire?

This could be a sensible approach if applied sparingly with a presumption toward the concept of free speech with extra police officers made available just in case.

But if it is ever applied in a one sided manner and the truth, or even perception, is that one group of people have more freedom of expression than another group, things are going to get ugly.

This is one big balancing act for a police force bound to keep the peace above all.

But freedom of expression is about more than just speaking or writing or drawing a cartoon or making a film etc, it also applies to those that consume such expression.

Let's take another look what the basic right to freedom of expression is:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

And the important bit here is that you have the right not just to push information out, but also the right to seek and receive information. After all, expressing your views to only the prison walls is not freedom of expression.

This is probably where such things as the Freedom of Information Act that applies to state bodies come from.

But could it also mean that private companies that hold information that the original author wanted to be openly published to the world using the services of that company, are not acting lawfully under human rights laws if they refuse to then publish it?

After all, there seems to be no get out clause in there for private companies as far as I can see.

Is the state, by putting pressure on social media companies to police the internet, actually breaching human rights laws for both publisher and consumer alike?

At the end of the day it is the authorities that should police, not private citizens. You could argue that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like should be able to hire their own 'bouncers' for their platform real estate, just like nightclubs do on their own property. But these entities are now so large that their space is in reality public space.

Then there is the matter of the contract you enter into when using those services, which usually lays out the limitations of what you can do on that platform. But should a fundamental human right to free expression be so easily circumvented? Should others be able to get you to waive your human rights so easily? What next, sign away your right to life?

I'm no expert in law and have only scratched the surface of this issue, but when the clean and clear dream of total free speech as envisaged by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is restricted and clouded by politics and law, the erosion of the freedom to express oneself and find the information you want will surely be continually eroded.

And it may also skew its original intent, as we seem to have changed that old adage:

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."


"Sticks and stones only break my bones, but words forever scar me."

We must all therefore always be on our guard and push back. And if we can't push back we no longer live in a free society.

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