Criminalising (Hateful) Extremism in the UK: Critical Reflections From Free Speech


  • Ian Turner The University of Central Lancashire


Terrorism, Hateful Extremism, Liberalism, Human Rights, Free Speech, Freedom of Expression, John Stuart Mill


The UK has a comprehensive arsenal of counter-terror law. The Terrorism Act 2000, for example, outlaws the membership of a proscribed terror group, as per s.11; and support for a proscribed terror group, as per s.12. The legislation also criminalises the preparation of terror attacks, such as possession for terrorist purposes, as per s.57; and the collection of information, as per s.58. Following the 7/7 terror attacks in London in 2005 the UK passed the Terrorism Act 2006 outlawing, for example, the encouragement of terrorism, including the glorification of terrorism, as per s.1; and the dissemination of terrorist publications, as per s.2. But the UK’s existing counter-terror legislation does not seem to go far enough in deterring violent extremism that falls short of terrorism. In February 2021, therefore, the UK’s independent Commission on Countering Extremism suggested further legislative reform to this area. In the UK there is freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, Article 10(2) of the ECHR permits a necessary interference with speech on the grounds of the prevention of disorder and crime. Indeed, historically, liberalism, which underpins much of human rights law, has also permitted limitations on the freedom of expression. Are the Commission’s proposals to curtail further the free speech of extremists compliant with the jurisprudence on free speech and the philosophy of liberalism upon which much of the law of human rights is grounded? Without being able to assess the Commission’s suggested reforms within every element of free speech, this piece examines many of its important facets, such as the responsibility of the rights-holder, the speaker, and the certainty upon which the law limiting the free speech is authorised. The findings of this piece are that the proposals of the Commission respect the UK’s law on free speech and its related theories of liberalism.


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