Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

Freedom of Expression

The freedoms of expression and assembly are closely related and represent one of the basic pillars of a democratic society.

These freedoms are frequently amongst the prime targets of authoritarian or populist governments and are routinely denied in many countries across the world. They also have a particular resonance in Northern Ireland given the past of flagrantly discriminatory policing directed at preventing nationalist expression and the present of a marching culture in the unionist community but also in parts of the nationalist community. Internationally, there is something of a division between those who uphold an unfettered freedom of expression, whatever the discriminatory or intimidatory content, and the other extreme of those who wish to impose, for example, blasphemy laws or the banning of any “offensive” content.

CAJ takes its stand on upholding the freedoms of expression and assembly but at the same time abiding by international treaties, jurisprudence and soft law which demand the outlawing of racist expression that leads directly to violence or discrimination and legitimate restrictions in the context of competing rights. However, it cannot be denied that this is an area where legal certainty has by no means been absolute – where to “draw the line” between protected free speech, even when offensive, and prohibited hate speech is not always clear. It is one of CAJ’s priorities to contribute to legal clarity in this area.

Latest press releases and publications

06
Jan

CAJ (intervener) responds to European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on Ashers cake case

CAJ has described the ruling (1) published today by the European Court of Human Rights on the Ashers cake case (Lee v. the United Kingdom) as a “missed opportunity”. The ruling declared the case inadmissible on a legal technicality. CAJ, alongside international LBGT and other rights groups (2), was party to third-party intervention in this...
14
Jun

CAJ and Conradh na Gaelige welcome decision by Stormont Standards Commissioner to investigate DUP Minister for no-show at North South Language Body

Rights NGOs, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and Conradh na Gaelige, have today welcomed the decision by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards, Dr Melissa McCullough, to investigate a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct by Junior Minister Gordon Lyons MLA. The complaint relates to the failure of Mr Lyons...
07
Jun

The Right to Protest and NI Coronavirus regulations

During the pandemic, the main regulations impacting the right to protest have been the ‘restrictions on gatherings’ and (when still in force) the ‘stay at home’ rule. At times, there has been no specific exemption to accommodate protests, making them all effectively illegal. Currently (since 24 May 2021), provisions are in place allowing outdoor gatherings...
30
Apr

Submission to the 2021 independent review of local government boundaries and names

The Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 provides for the periodic appointment of a Local Government Boundaries Commissioner to review the names of the district councils and wards within Northern Ireland. The latest review launched in February 2021, with an invitation for proposals. CAJ and leading Irish language NGO, Conradh na Gaeilge (CnaG), wrote to...
01
Dec

CAJ welcomes publication of independent hate crime review

CAJ has welcomed the publication of the independent review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. The review, led by Judge Desmond Marrinan, was commissioned by the Department of Justice in 2019. Among the recommendations of the Review are that NI formally adopts ‘hate crimes’ legislation, which would mean all existing criminal offences could also...
16
Jun

Amnesty and CAJ raise concerns over laws restricting protest ahead of assembly debate

Human rights organisations concerned at last-minute law changes and PSNI action against Black Lives Matter protests Amnesty International UK and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) have written to every MLA – in advance of a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly today (Tuesday 16 June 2020) – to outline concerns about law...
08
Jun

Laws restricting protest in Northern Ireland unacceptable

CAJ joins with Amnesty International UK to condemn the issuing of fines at Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies in NI The last-minute introduction of fines against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Northern Ireland over the weekend is “unacceptable”, Amnesty International UK and CAJ said today. The human rights organisations have raised concerns that enforcement...
28
Apr

Submission to the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Northern Ireland

Tacking incitement to hatred, in accordance with international human rights standards, is an area of priority focus for CAJ. Partially in response to lobbying from CAJ, an independent review of Northern Ireland’s hate crime legislation was agreed by former Justice Minister Claire Sugden in 2017, before officially launching in 2019 with Judge Desmond Marrinan at...
05
Mar

Principles and Guidelines on Protest and the Right to Information

Social protests provide an important avenue for people to exercise their right to freedom of expression and their right to peaceful assembly. However, in recent years, many jurisdictions have placed new restrictions on protests, which often do not comport with international law and do not enhance public safety (or serve another legitimate purpose). In response...

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