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Judges rule people have ‘right to offend' and verbally 'abuse’ while clearing defendant who misgendered trans woman

"Free speech encompasses the right to offend and indeed to abuse another"

2020-12-18

Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: The Royal Courts of Justice in London (Pexels)

Two senior judges have ruled that “free speech encompasses the right to offend and indeed abuse another”, while clearing a mother-of-two who repeatedly misgendered a trans woman and called her a “pig in a wig” online.

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby, presiding over a Court of Appeal case, furthermore ruled that “freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

They also said it would be a “serious interference” if “those wishing to express their own views could be silenced by, or threatened with, proceedings for harassment based on subjective claims by individuals that felt offended or insulted.”

The judgement does not change the law but will likely influence rulings in lower courts.

The case follows mother-of-two Kate Scottow, 40, from Hitchin in Hertfordshire being found guilty of contravening the Communications Act 2003 section 127(2) after calling a trans woman Stephanie Hayden a “racist”, a “pig and a wig” and a man, reports The Telegraph.

Scottow’s conviction was overturned last week, with details of the appeal published yesterday.

"This is a complex area of law"

A CPS spokesperson said: “The Court of Appeal’s judgment concluded there was not enough evidence to convict the defendant for persistently making use of a public communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety, determining that the timing and level of communication exchanged online did not constitute a criminal offence.

“This is a complex area of law and we will carefully consider the judgment, specifically in relation to comments made online and associated issues of free speech.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mrs Scottow called verdict is “a victory for freedom of speech that confirms no one has the right not to be offended."

 

She added: “Women fighting for their rights against an aggressive LGBT lobby have been silenced for the past three years. I hope this judgment gives them hope.”

Ms Hayden said the judgment “encourages online trolls to abuse, dox and intimidate transgender persons,” adding: “This is unfortunate and a kick in the teeth to the entire LGBT community”.

“I do not blame Scottow. She was entitled to appeal her conviction and congratulations must be extended to Scottow and her legal team. The higher judiciary have ordained that transgender people are legitimate targets. I for one will keep that in mind and respond accordingly.”

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