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Ministers sidestep duty to protect free speech

THE new Bill of Rights exempts the government from having to comply with the free speech protections that it contains, legal experts said yesterday, with Liberty labelling it a “power grab.”

Clauses in the Bill exempt laws created by ministers from being subject to a new free speech test, including government policies to crack down on protest and other speech.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said last week that the new Bill would prevent free speech from being “whittled away” by “wokery and political correctness.”

But campaigners warned yesterday that the charter would “end up hampering efforts to hold the government to account.”

Liberty director Martha Spurrier said: “Let’s be clear: this Bill is a power grab by a government that has no respect for our rights.

“It’s crucial we all stand up to this power grab and make it clear that we won’t tolerate the stripping away of our human rights.”

Liberty policy and campaigns officer Charlie Whelton added: “The government is falsely claiming they will improve protection for freedom of expression.”

Clause four of the Bill tells courts to give weight to the importance of free speech, but is restricted from being applied in circumstances including criminal proceedings, determinations of whether legislation is compatible with human rights and questions of confidentiality, immigration, citizenship or national security, Mr Whelton said.

“This clause will not protect protesters or whistleblowers, nor will it allow courts to keep a check on the government infringing our free speech rights,” he argued.

A senior legal expert said that the exemption is “very, very odd” because in countries across the world, including the United States, this type of legislation usually covers governments.

“They’re saying you have these really strong protections for free speech — except against the government,” Gavin Phillipson, professor of law at the University of Bristol, told the Independent.

“Generally, if you look at most threats to free speech and what most bills of rights around the world are concerned with, it’s the various threats to free speech posed by the government,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice said that the approach in the Bill was necessary to stop free speech from being abused and it denied that the measures were a “carve-out” for ministers. 

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