People have the ‘right to offend’ and to ‘abuse another’ without fear of arrest, UK court rules

Stephanie Hayden (left) and Kate Scottow (right)

English judges have insisted that freedom of speech includes the “right to offend” and to “abuse another” without police investigation after Twitter troll Kate Scottow was arrested for targeting a trans woman.

Lord justice Bean and justice Warby ruled that “free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another,” in a written ruling published Wednesday (16 December), according to The Telegraph.

“Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having,” they added.

Presiding over the Court of Appeal in London, the judges ruled on the case of Stephanie Hayden who suffered a torrent of online abuse from Kate Scottow. She was called “racist”, a “pig in a wig” and repeatedly misgendered.

They sought to stress that it would be a “serious interference” with the right of free speech 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”.

They also compared the prosecution to “unjustified state interference with free speech”.

It was a ruling described as a “kick in the teeth to the entire LGBT+ community” by Hayden and one that reduces trans people to “legitimate targets” of abuse.

While it will not change any existing law, the move by two senior appeal judges will likely have a ripple effect across Britain’s jurisprudence, impacting how decision-makers in lower courts handle and interpret freedom of expression.

Freedom of speech ruling reduces trans folk to ‘legitimate targets’ says, Stephanie Hayden 

Scottow was initially found guilty of persistently making use of a public communications network to cause annoyance/inconvenience and anxiety to Hayden on 14 February this year. But her conviction was overturned last week by the appeal courts.

Hayden told the newspaper that the judgment “encourages online trolls to abuse, dox and intimidate transgender persons”.

She added: “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.”

While Scottow said: “It was necessary to enshrine one of the most fundamental rights of every living being in a democratic society – the right to freedom of speech that is now routinely attacked.”

“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,” a Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said.

“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.”

Kate Scottow misgendering trans woman compared to ‘playground’ name-calling by judge

Hayden told St Albans Magistrates Court earlier this year that Scottow had made multiple Twitter accounts to send her anti-trans messages between September 2018 and May 2019.

During the trial, which saw protesters holding anti-trans banners gathered outside the court, she said: “There were a number of tweets which were not only targeting me, they were targeting other people who were either transgender or who were perceived to be supportive of transgender people.

“When I observed the tweets that the defendant was referring to me in, the defendant was referring to me with male pronouns, he/him.

“This is the problem with these people, this is just done to annoy people like me. It is calculated to violate, in my case, my dignity as a woman. It is basically calculated to, excuse my language madam, p**s us off.

“It is unnecessary and it is just harassment.”

A district judge handed Scottow a two-year conditional discharge and ordered her to pay £1,000 in compensation.

Judge Margaret Dodds told her: “Your comments contributed nothing to a debate.

“We teach children to be kind to each other and not to call each other names in the playground.”