England’s High Court has struck a rare victory for free speech, overturning the conviction of a Twitter user who called a transgender person a man and ruling that people have a right to offend others online.
Mother of two Kate Scottow had been convicted under a section of the Communications Act which makes “persistently making use of a public electronic communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another” a crime following an argument with lawyer and trans activist Stephanie Hayden, who is legally a woman according to a gender certificate obtained in 2017.
Kate Scottow was arrested by three police officers at her home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, late last year as her then ten-year-old daughter and 20-month-old son looked on. Her arrest followed complaints from transgender campaigner Stephanie Hayden
District judge Margaret Dodds decided that Mrs Scottow had broken the “rule’” to “be kind to each other and not call each other names”, but Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby at the Divisional Court of the High Court overturned her judgement as “deficient” and “flawed” on appeal.
“The Judge appears to have considered that a criminal conviction was merited for acts of unkindness and calling others names,” said Mr Justice Warby, but “A prosecution under section 127(2)c [of the Communications Act] for online speech is plainly an interference by the state with the defendant’s Convention right to freedom of expression.”
The senior judges said that if the case had “been approached by the [original] Judge in a legally correct manner, it should have been dismissed”.