Friday, July 17, 2009

UK government to repeal sedition

First, we take Wellington. Then we take London:

Laws dating from the Star Chamber that can see people jailed for speaking out are to be abolished after a campaign by writers and actors, lawyers and politicians.

Lord Bach, the Justice Minister, has bowed to the weight of criticism and agreed that the offences of sedition and criminal libel are “outdated” and should be abolished. “Sedition and defamatory libel are arcane offences from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today,” he said.

But it was not just a case of removing some redundant offences. The laws may not have been used much lately in Britain, but their significance was the legitimacy they provided to other countries to suppress public criticism.

As Lord Bach acknowledged: “The retention of these obsolete offences has been cited by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws that have been used to restrict press freedom.”

This is an excellent move, and long past due. The UK Law Commission recommended the abolition of sedition in 1977, but it has hung around on the books like a bad smell for a further 30 years. Meanwhile, this bit illustrates perfectly why sedition has to go
The offences date from the time of the Star Chamber and were used in 1792 against Thomas Paine on the ground that the Rights of Man brought into hatred and contempt the present sovereign, Parliament, kingdom, constitution, laws and government.
Paine's "crime"? He advocated democracy. There's no better example of how sedition has been used by bad governments in an effort to suppress good ideas.