Free speech includes the right to offend, judges rule

(Photo: Unsplash/Con Karampelas)

Two judges have cleared a woman in a misgendering case that could have far-reaching implications for freedom of speech and policing.

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby at the Court of Appeal ruled that "free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another", The Telegraph reports.

The verdict was handed down in the case of a woman who was accused of misgendering a trans woman on Twitter in a number of tweets in 2018. 

Earlier this year, the accused was given a two-year conditional discharge, and ordered to pay £1,000 compensation but decided to appeal the judgment.

Now that verdict has been overturned by the two appeal judges in a landmark ruling that is likely to impact how police officers respond to complaints about opinions or comments deemed offensive.

In their ruling, the judges said that people "could be silenced" if they are threatened with harassment proceedings for expressing their own views. 

They said that claims by individuals who felt offended or insulted were "subjective" and would be a "serious interference" with free speech rights.

"Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having," they wrote. 

The ruling was welcomed by Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow, who was investigated by police for allegedly misgendering a trans woman. 

She said there was "a difference between being rude on Twitter and setting up a blog targeting an individual and their family with the express intention of causing alarm and distress."