Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds and by any means. Most people confuse this freedom with the right to say what you like, whenever you like, which is wrong. This right is enshrined in the Constitution of Australia, where every Australian has the freedom to express themselves without restraint, censorship, legal penalties, and restraint.

Australia is a party to seven international human right treaties, which guarantees freedom of expression. We are signatory to the UN General Assembly’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) treaty, which was adopted on 16 December 1966. The freedom of opinion and expression is contained in articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR.

What Does Freedom of Speech Entail?

speech bubbles collectionFreedom of speech in Australia entails a number of components as recommended by various treaties. The ICCPR treaty stipulates that everyone has the right to expression interference. You are allowed to express yourself in all forms of medium, including writing, oral, or printing. This includes pinning your opinion on your social media profiles. You can also hold public protests, using artistic work or even broadcasting to pass the information.

This right also considers people with special needs and the need to enable them to express themselves. As a signatory to the Convention in the Right of Persons with Disability (CRPD), the government of Australia must provide this group of people with ways to express themselves. This includes rights to access formats and technologies to promote their right to expression.

Freedom of speech includes everything about the person’s aspect of life. This includes communications concerning political matters and governance matters. The reason why this right is crucial is to deter abuse of power by those in authority. In most dictatorships, this is one of the freedoms that is suppressed. There are so many examples all over the world.

How Far Can Your Freedom Of Speech Be Tolerated?

This freedom can only go so far. The law does not give you absolute freedom to express yourself. The drafters anticipated this tool could be misused by bad people. Article 20 of the ICCPR treaty makes it known that the freedom of express oneself is not absolute. It can be limited for the general good.

This right comes with responsibility, and thus you need to observe the set framework when exercising this right. Australia has made a declaration in relation to this article to limit this freedom for a number of reasons. According to ICCPR, it is criminal to vilify persons based on their racial, religious, or national grounds.

Anything you say or do when expressing yourself and could be interpreted as hatred and incitement to racial discrimination is treated as a criminal offence in Australia. You will need criminal defence lawyers to defend your case in a court of law.

When Can Freedom Of Speech Be Restricted?

group of feminist women rallying

The law-enforcing authorities can restrict your freedom of expression because of several reasons. Here are major reasons why your freedom of speech can be limited:

National Security

If, while exercising this right, it’s deemed that you are compromising national security, this freedom will be limited. This includes a request to access classified information or state secrets. Similarly, if you start sharing information that incites the public and could destabilise national security, the government has the constitutional power to suppress this freedom.

Rights of Reputation Of Others

One of the most common legal phrases is that ‘your right ends where mine begins.’ This simply means freedom to express yourself should not hurt other people’s rights and reputation. The government will stop you from exercising this right if there are complaints of intruding into other peoples’ rights.

Public Order

street rally leaderIf there is public disorder and the government finds that your continued expression of your freedom of speech is a threat, your right can be restricted. A good example is demonstrations. The ICCPR treaty says of peaceful demonstrations. But in some cases, demos can turn chaotic, resulting in loss of life and property. In such cases, authorities can withdraw your freedom to restore public order.

Checks and Balances

The state can go rogue and start using fictitious reasons to restrict freedom of expression. That’s why we have the judiciary to interpret the law, including the threshold upon which to suppress the right. Checks and balances work to reduce the possible exploitation of this freedom and its limitations.

The reason for restriction must be very specific. You cannot close a radio station because of a single show. The issue of national security is also supposed to be properly defined in law to avoid abuse by the state. If allowed, those in authority would like to suppress all dissenting voices. That’s why checks and balances are crucial in a democracy.

Do You Need A Lawyer?

The answer is YES. If the state is limiting your freedom of speech, you have the right to appeal the decision in a court of law. Only the judiciary system has the power to interpret the law and not the enforcing authorities. You might need both constitutional and human rights lawyers to argue your cases. They can make the courts lift the restrictions for you.

If the state has taken you to court on criminal charges as a result of exercising your freedom of speech, you need a criminal defence lawyer to defend you. An experienced criminal lawyer can help challenge the prosecutor’s evidence and absolve you from any wrongdoing. If still found guilty, a good defence lawyer can help you get a favourable sentence or fine. These are some of the reasons why dealing with legal teams is crucial.

In conclusion, freedom of speech is very crucial in a democracy. It enables citizens to speak their minds and change the course of their country. But it is important to understand that it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You can be charged with a criminal case if you misuse this right.