Express & Star comment: A great day for freedom of speech
Whisper it quietly, shout it from the rooftops or just let it be widely known – today is a great day for the freedom of speech.
The Government’s decision not to go ahead with Section 40 of the Crime & Courts Act should be greeted with a huge sense of relief by anyone who believes in a free press.
As Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “You can’t have a free society without a free press.”
And make no mistake, the effects of this disingenuous piece of legislation would have been disastrous for newspapers up and down the land.
We are not talking here about the type of newspaper that illegally hacked into so many people’s mobile phones or attempted to ride roughshod over the rule of law in the past.
Instead, the victims would have been local newspapers, like the one you hold in your hands, which spend all their time trying their best every day to hold local authorities and local services to account and fighting for the communities they serve.
This legislation would have meant that anyone could have sued a newspaper in the knowledge that the organisation they were suing would have to meet their costs, irrespective of whether they won or lost their case.
That flies in the face of fairness and natural justice. And it would have fundamentally undermined both a free press and the everyday freedom of speech that every citizen enjoys in this country. A heavy price indeed.
Equally, the decision not to proceed with the second part of the Leveson Inquiry should be welcomed. Little would have been gained from hauling witnesses back in front of the inquiry. As Culture Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledges significant progress has been made in recent years.
To continue with the inquiry would have achieved little at a cost estimated at around £5 million.
And this at a time when public concern has swiftly moved away from newspapers towards online platforms, social media and the plague of fake news and trolls in the digital sphere.
There will be some celebrities and famous faces who will throw their hands up in horror at this decision. However, the laws of the land are in place – and were always in place – to deal with the issue of hacking as a matter of criminality.
To punish an entire industry – newspapers big and small – over the criminal behaviour of a tiny minority simply makes no sense.