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    Thursday, 26 April 2007

    No more Miss Behavin'!!

    Yesterday saw the delivery of a judgment by the House of Lords which - for Baroness Hale - took 'the prize for the most entertaining name of any that have come before us in recent years' (Belfast City Council v. Miss Behavin' Limited [2007] UKHL 19). While some people are easily amused, to my mind the case is interesting for the explicit assumption made by at least three of their Lordships that the right to sell pornography from a given location invoked the Article 10 right to freedom of expression.

    That said, Baroness Hale did place such forms fairly low down the list of protected speech: "there are far more important human rights in this world than the right to sell pornographic literature and images in the backstreets of Belfast City Centre. Pornography comes well below celebrity gossip in the hierarchy of speech which deserves the protection of the law. Far too often it entails the sexual exploitation and degradation of women for the titillation of men. But there is always room for debate about what constitutes pornography. We can all think of wonderful works of literature which once were banned for their supposed immorality".

    The sex shop owners lost the case. The fact that the city council had not explicitly considered the owners' Convention rights when originally denying them an operating licence did not amount to a procedural failing warranting the overturning of its decision. The abridgment of the expression right was proportionate and legitimated by statute.

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