Wilkes versus Leveson

A good article in the Australian Financial Review ties the British battle for press freedom of John Wilkes with the attack on press freedom represented by the Leveson Inquiry:

We have far too many laws in this area circumscribing free speech – not just Labour’s hate crimes legislation, or the Public Order Act, but also the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988. As a result, the police and prosecutors are able to move from one to the other to close down views deemed to be unacceptable.

The fault here lies with the foe that Wilkes fought, even though he was a member of it: Parliament…

We do not have a written constitution – or rather we do not have a constitution that is codified. But as Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said in an important and insightful speech shortly before the Leveson Inquiry began its work, “the fact that there is nothing in statute which states expressly that the independence of the press is a constitutional principle does not diminish the principle”. Lord Judge also quoted Wilkes: “The liberty of the press is the birthright of a Briton and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country.”

The piece is pay-walled unfortunately but definitely worth reading. And, of course, I covered the John Wilkes story in my book In Defence of Freedom of Speech.

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