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Can free speech and protests against MPs undermine democracy?

14 February 2019

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to private and family life. It also protects the right to free and fair elections. How can these rights be balanced?

Previous work

On 30 January the JCHR took evidence from a panel of MPs asking:

  • How can rights be exercised in a way which supports democracy? Some rights can be limited if necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.
  • What is the correct balance between the right to protest, including to protest against things an MP has said, and the democratic need for MPs to have the freedom to represent their constituents and communicate with the public?

Intimidatory behaviour is affecting the way MPs are relating to their constituents

In 2017 the Committee on Standards in Public Life reported on Intimidation in Public Life, saying:

“Intimidatory behaviour is already affecting the way in which MPs are relating to their constituents, has put off candidates who want to serve their communities from standing for public offices, and threatens to damage the vibrancy and diversity of our public life.


[...] There has been persistent, vile and shocking abuse, threatened violence including sexual violence, and damage to property. It is clear that much of this behaviour is targeted at certain groups. The widespread use of social media platforms is the most significant factor driving the behaviour we are seeing.
Little has changed since then. Threats continue to arise while MPs are at or around Parliament, travelling, in the constituency or at home.”

The Government is consulting on electoral law (Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information) and a White Paper on regulation of social media is expected shortly. Will the changes proposed be sufficient? What else needs to be done?

Send us your views

The Joint Committee on Human Rights invites submissions of no more than 1,500 words from interested groups and individuals.

The deadline for submissions has been extended till Monday 25 March. Use the written submission form.

The Committee is asking:

  • The right to speak freely on political matters is strongly protected. Can it be given the protection it needs without permitting harassment or hate speech against MPs?
  • Is the balance between the right to political freedom of expression and the democratic requirement for MPs to be able to do their jobs safely and MPs' and their families rights to privacy correct?
  • What is the role of social media in relation to free speech and threats to MPs? How, if at all, should it be regulated?
  • What types of political abuse are most prevalent? What is driving this abuse and what more can be done to counter it?
  • What has already been done to identify the scale of the problem and address it?

Further information

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