Where to draw the line: Hate Speech, Free Expression and Censorship


This event is sponsored by Ruth Maguire MSP

Where do we draw the line between the free speech that needs to be protected and hate speech that needs to be legislated against? This is a complex question with no easy answers, but as the internet continues to redefine how we communicate and free speech being used by some to excuse violent threats, it is becoming a question we need to get better at answering.

Following the publication of Lord Bracadale’s Independent Review of Hate Crime, Scottish Government is looking to reform Scots Law on a range of laws, including hate speech so it is vital that the implications of this reform are explored and debated by interested parties and civil society. This event will bring together experts to discuss challenging issues related to free expression and hate speech, including issues around censorship and responsibilities of the state, individuals and communications platforms such as social media networks. As we largely depend on privately owned platforms to communicate, it is vital we understand their responsibilities in terms of moderating their platform and what happens when this moderation unlawfully limits free expression or sits idly by when users are threatened.

We will not come up with anything definitive in this two-hour session, but we hope to facilitate an engaging debate on this challenging and evolving topic. The session will be chaired by Andrew Tickell, Scottish PEN Trustee, Law Lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University and columnist for The National and will feature Dr Kim Barker, Lecturer in Law at Stirling Law School; Stephen Blythe, the Community Guardian for Automattic and Internet Law & Policy LLM Course Co-ordinator at the University of Strathclyde; Regius Professor of Law, Professor James Chalmers of University of Glasgow; and Clare Connelly, Advocate, Compass Chambers.

More speakers are to be announced, so stay tuned.


Dr Kim Barker

Dr Kim Barker is a lecturer in law at Stirling Law School, where her expertise focuses upon intellectual property and internet law. Her research focuses on the regulation and control of online platforms, especially examining the intersection between user and platform responsibilities and legal regulation. She is currently working on a number of projects addressing social media abuse and regulation, and online gender-based abuse, which includes putting the finishing touches to a book on Online Misogyny and Hate Crime, due for publication in late 2018.

Stephen Blythe

Stephen Blythe is a lawyer and specialist in tech policy. He currently works with the legal team at Automattic, and is experienced in dealing directly with questions about the extent of freedom of expression online. He is also leads the E-Commerce and Privacy law modules as course co-ordinator on Strathclyde University’s LLM. program, which look specifically at the limits of intermediary liability.

Professor James Chalmers

James Chalmers has been Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow since 2012, and teaches criminal law, criminal procedure and evidence. He was a member of the Reference Group for Lord Bracadale’s Hate Crime Legislation Review and is currently working on a programme of research into jury decision-making, funded by the Scottish Government.

Clare Connelly

Clare Connelly is an Advocate practising in the fields of civil and criminal law. She has particular expertise in Human Rights and has successfully pursued cases of wrongful detention, death in custody and discriminatory education policies. Clare has published widely in the field of criminal law and is currently the editor of Green’s Criminal Law Bulletin and Renton and Brown’s Statutory fraud.

Andrew Tickell

Andrew Tickell is a freelance writer and commentator whose bylines include the Times, Scotland on Sunday, the Daily Record and the National. He contributes regularly to BBC Scotland on legal and political questions. A Scottish PEN trustee, Andrew is also a lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, focusing on constitutional law, criminal law, and fundamental rights.