Saturday 18 November 2017

A good day for freedom of speech

A good day for freedom of speech.
A good day for freedom of speech.
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

The Constitution recognises and declares that people living in Ireland have certain fundamental rights. These rights are natural human rights and are confirmed and protected by the Constitution. The right to freedom of speech, what the polemicist and poet John Milton referred to as "flowery crop of knowledge", is among those rights, but is no greater and no lesser than other rights before the law.

And what important rights they are: the right to equality before the law, the right to life, personal liberty, freedom of assembly, freedom of association; the right to fair procedures, to bodily integrity, trial by jury, religious liberty; the right to earn a livelihood, freedom to travel, the inviolability of a citizen's dwelling, property rights and the rights of a family. These are natural human rights, not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government but are universal and inalienable and must always be protected.

There are two further fundamental rights, which are in conflict. The law of defamation contemplates the clash of these two fundamental rights: the right to freedom of expression and the right to reputation. The rules of defamation law are designed to mediate between these two rights. Therefore, it is important that the law strikes a correct balance between the right to freedom of expression in a democratic society and an individual's right to protect their good name and privacy against unfounded attack. This newspaper has long contended that defamation law needs to be reformed to balance these conflicting rights. In a significant judgment last week, the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of Independent Newspapers where this newspaper group argued that the decision of the Supreme Court on damages for defamation was not compatible with rights to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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