Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression

Open justice lets in the light and allows the public to scrutinise the workings of the law, for better or for worse. Without open justice, the public cannot follow court proceedings.  The quality of justice suffers.  The freedom of expression of the media depends on their ability to publish stories of public interest.  It is therefore no surprise that Doughty Street has been at the forefront of open justice challenges, ever since it was formed.

Where anonymity orders were wrongly put in place in the Supreme Court, Doughty Street barristers challenged the “alphabet soup” of the case list (AKMQG v Her Majesty’s Treasury ).  Where the press sought access to evidence at the heart of a complex extradition challenge, Doughty Street barristers argued on their behalf (R (Guardian News & Media) v City of Westminster Magistrates Court ).  Where the press were shut out of secret proceedings about permitting the police access to press sources, Doughty Street barristers argued in the Supreme Court that this practice was wrong (R (BSkyB) v Chelmsford Crown Court).  To this day, Doughty Street barristers appear regularly in courts, testing the limits of freedom of expression and open justice in criminal, family law, inquest, employment, and other proceedings.

Doughty Street’s commitment to freedom of expression doesn’t begin and end with open justice challenges.  Doughty Street has always included defamation experts, who act on the cutting edge between freedom of expression and reputation rights.  They acted in the House of Lords in Jameel v Wall Street Journal (Europe) , in the most high-profile privacy challenges (MGN Ltd v United Kingdom , relating to the publication in the Mirror of photographs of Naomi Campbell leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting), and, today, in cases including the policing of free speech on the internet.

We have also fought for journalistic freedoms abroad, standing up for journalists threatened by censorship, criminalization and further human rights abuses. In the first freedom of expression case in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso , Doughty Street acted on behalf of a journalist from Burkina Faso whose newspaper had been shut down for defaming a local prosecutor and sentenced to a year in prison. In Egypt, we acted on behalf of Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian journalist for CNN and the New York Times; and Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief from September 2013. He was arrested with two of his colleagues on false charges, convicted following a sham trial marred with due process failures, and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Our defence of Mohamed Fahmy drew supporters from around the world, including the United Nations, the EU, and many democratic governments. Following a defective re-trial, the case ultimately concluded in September 2015 when President Al-Sisi pardoned Fahmy and allowed him to leave the country.

And our work does not end in the court-room.  Doughty Street has a long association with Index on Censorship, a non-governmental organization fighting against censorship around the world.  We sponsor the Freedom of Expression Award for Advocacy to recognise remarkable free speech advocates around the world, including those who face death or grave threats or human rights abuses as a result, such as Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taleban for her campaigning on girls’ education.

As the limits of freedom of speech are tested online, in a world of fast-paced communication and mass surveillance, no chambers is better placed to stand up for journalists, the media, and citizens.

For more information about Doughty Street’s work in this area please see our media team page.