Every month, in a relaxed location in central London the London Legal Salon will meet to discuss the big questions facing the law today. Attendance is always free. This blog will publish articles by attendees and the organisers to supplement the debates at our monthly meetings.

Every meeting will be introduced by a short talk from a lawyer or commentator in the area under examination. The discussion will then be opened to those attending to make contributions or ask questions. The meetings will last around ninety minutes and operate under Chatham House rules.

The discussions and the articles on this website will look to scrutinise the black letter of the law and its implications in the Courts and wider society. They will also look to situate the law in its historical and political context. We hope that by developing an understanding of where the law has come from, and why the law has taken the form it has today, we may begin to form an idea of where we want it to go.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

8th of May 2012 at 1930: Who is singing anymore? Is the law strangling free speech at football?

On the 8th of May 2012 the London Legal Salon will meet back at the Hoop and Grapes on Farringdon Street to discuss free speech at football.

Up and down the United Kingdom, the law is creeping onto the terraces.  Earlier this month Liam Stacey, a student from South Wales, was jailed for ‘tweeting’ mocking remarks about Bolton Football Club’s Farbrice Muamba whilst he suffered a heart attack during a game.   In Scotland, new criminal offences, contained in the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012, mean that Scottish football fans could be arrested for crossing themselves or for singing the wrong song.  In England, high profile prosecutions of players for the use of racist language on the pitch has led David Cameron to pledge in the course of a government Anti Racism summit in February that he would ‘crush’ racism out of football.  His language suggests that upcoming reforms of English laws could follow the Scottish model.

Proponents of the Scottish law and supporters of reform in England argue that racist and sectarian behaviour at football matches creates a climate of acceptability of such behaviour off the pitch. But critics argue that regulation not only threatens to stifle the atmosphere at matches, but also sets a dangerous precedent for the regulation of free speech in wider society.

Should we use the law to crack down on offensive speech at football matches? Or should we let what’s said in the ground stay in the ground? What does the regulation of speech at matches suggest about our approach to free speech in wider society?

Kevin Rooney,  Free Spech campaigner and teacher at Queen's School
Dan Jones, Journalist at the Evening Standard