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.