The Queen on the application of Harry Miller (Claimant) v (1) The College of Policing and (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside (Defendants)
Ian Wise QC, instructed by Paul Conrathe of Sinclairs Law, acted for the claimant, ex-police officer Harry Miller, in his challenge to the College of Policing guidance and the action of Humberside Police in following that guidance which required the police to record a ‘non-crime hate incident’ against him, following a complaint by an anonymous member of the public who said that they were offended by allegedly “transphobic” tweets.
This high-profile case raises important and novel issues concerning freedom of speech and social media and has been described by leading legal commentator Adam Wagner as the “most important judgment on free speech and social media for years”.
In his judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Julian Knowles held that although the College of Policing’s general guidance on the recording of “non-crime hate incidents” did not in and of itself involve a disproportionate interference with the Claimant’s Article 10 rights, Humberside Police had disproportionately interfered with the Claimant’s rights under Article 10 ECHR by recording the Claimant’s tweets as a “non-crime hate incidents” under that guidance and subsequently warning the Claimant that he may face criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet on the same subject. The High Court placed heavy reliance on the fact that the Claimant’s tweets formed part of a legitimate public debate about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and therefore any interference with the Claimant’s right to express an opinion on such issues required a very compelling justification, which was absent in this case. The judgment is notable for its detailed and penetrating analysis of the Strasbourg and domestic authorities on freedom of expression, and will no doubt form an important precedent in future cases involving such issues.
The judgment emphasises the vital importance of free speech in a democracy and provides a reminder that free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, and that the freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. In response to the Defendants’ submissions that any interference with the Claimant’s rights was trivial and justifiable, the judgment is clear:
“The effect of the police turning up at [the Claimant’s] place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”
You can read the full judgment here and detailed case note by Imogen Proud is here.
The case and judgment received significant media interest. See examples of today’s coverage:
BBCNews; The Times; The Guardian; The Evening Standard; The Telegraph.
Ian Wise QC acted for Mr Miller throughout the proceedings. Michael Armitage assisted Ian with in preparing the detailed legal submissions for the hearing.