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Freedom of Speech / Slander / Libel

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All over the world persons have fought for it. Today, freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution as a fundamental right of the individual. This right is irrespective of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedom of others and for the public interest.{{more}} This right is also regarded as a human right and is given as Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since 1789 when the French Revolution occurred, it was recognized as an inalienable right.

Freedom of speech is recognized as a necessary element of democracy because there must be a free flow of information. People have to be informed and be allowed to express themselves. Free speech has prevailed over the rigid censorship of the past, and we are better off for it. It is a treasure that we have to cherish and preserve.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of speech is embodied in the term freedom of expression in our laws, as it is not confined to free speech only but also to freedom to receive ideas and information irrespective of the medium by which it is given. Section 10 of the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines provides for the protection of expression. Subsection (1) reads as follows:

Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his correspondence.

Limitations

But as many would know also that freedom of expression has its limit, in other words you cannot abuse the right to expression by unreasonably pulling down your neighbor with untruths; in other words you do not have the right to slander or libel anyone. There is a tendency to mix slander and libel, but slander is verbal abuse of a person when you say something that is discrediting and injurious to a person’s character, while libel is that which you write about a person. For both offences there are legal recourses. I will deal with both slander and libel in subsequent articles.

Election count down

I want to take this opportunity to wish you an election result that is beneficial to you and this country. I have not seen such fierce competition in any other elections. Those of us who live near to the main road could attest to this. There is never a quiet moment. The sounds of loudspeakers blaring out music and slogans keep us up all day and late into the night. Sometimes there is a traffic jam. In two days time the excitement will be over, but I urge you to keep the peace. Do not engage in any action that will be injurious to your neighbours. Remember that after the elections we have to live peacefully with our neighbours. Yes, it is an important and necessary exercise of democracy and we all have the same aim, to get a government that will carry out the will of the people. Avoid violence! There are other ways to settle your differences.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]

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