R (Animal Defenders International) v Culture Secretary (HL)
Reference:  UKHL 15; Times, 17 March 2008
Court: House of Lords
Judge: Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Scott of Foscote, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Carswell, and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
Date of judgment: 12 Mar 2008
Summary: Human rights - Freedom of expression - Article 10, ECHR - Prohibition of political advertising - Broadcasting - Television -Human Rights Act 1998 - Declaration of incompatibility - Communications Act 2003
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Instructing Solicitors: Bindman & Partners for A; Treasury Solicitors for the Respondent
The Appellant (A) was a non-profit company whose aims included the suppression by lawful means of cruelty to animals. It campaigned against the use of animals in commerce, science and leisure and sought to achieve changes in the law and public policy to that end. Because of its campaigning objectives it was not eligible for registration as a charity. A intended to broadcast a television advert as part of a campaign against the use of primates by humans. The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre declined to clear the advert because its transmission would breach the prohibition on political advertising contained in s.321(2) of the 2003 Act, A being a body with mainly political objects as defined by the Act. The Divisional Court refused A’s request for a declaration that the 2003 Act was incompatible with Art 10. A appealed to the House of Lords (having been granted permission to “leapfrog” the Court of Appeal).
(1) Whether the ban, in applying to bodies such as A, which were not associated with any political party but were engaged in social advocacy, was too wide; and
(2) Whether this wide-ranging prohibition was necessary in a democratic society.
Dismissing the appeal;
It was highly desirable that the playing field of debate and competing views, underpinning the democratic process, was level and that it was the duty of broadcasters to achieve that object in an impartial way by presenting balanced programmes in which all views might be ventilated. This was not to be achieved if well-endowed political entities, whether or not political parties, were able to use their financial might to give enhanced prominence to their views. A restriction on the right to free expression may properly be designed to protect others’ rights against the potential mischief of biased political advertising. There was no consensus or settled practice among Member States as to the manner in which to legislate for the broadcasting of religious advertisements. In the circumstances, the ban on political advertising contained in ss 319, 320 and 321 was necessary in a democratic society and was compatible with Art 10(2).
Lord Scott, adding to the opinion of Lord Bingham, went on to conclude that since the width of the statutory prohibition was remarkable and appeared to prevent a group such as A from broadcasting an advertisement with an entirely neutral political content, there might be respects in which sections 319, 320 and 321 were incompatible with Art 10, though in the instant respect it was not.