Sedition law in UK abolished in 2009, continues in India

A colonial-era law intended to suppress the voice of freedom continues in force in India, but Britain itself abolished sedition as a criminal offence in 2009 as it was considered to be a relic of an era where freedom of expression was not considered a right as it is now.
Legislation against sedition continue to be actively used in despite despite the fact that they are relics of the British Raj. Britain itself had abolished sedition as a criminal offence in 2009.(HT Photo)
Legislation against sedition continue to be actively used in despite despite the fact that they are relics of the British Raj. Britain itself had abolished sedition as a criminal offence in 2009.(HT Photo)
Updated on Feb 16, 2016 11:27 AM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times | By, London

A colonial-era law intended to suppress the voice of freedom continues in force in India, but Britain itself abolished sedition as a criminal offence in 2009 as it was considered to be a relic of an era where freedom of expression was not considered a right as it is now.

Sedition was abolished through the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009, under Gordon Brown’s Labour government. Three offences were abolished: the offences of sedition and seditious libel; the offence of defamatory libel; and the offence of obscene libel.

The then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Claire Ward, said at the time of the act’s enactment: “Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences - from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today”.

“Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy, and the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom”.

Britain’s Law Commission had recommended the abolition of the law of sedition in 1977.

According to Claire, “The existence of these obsolete offences in this country had been used by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws which have been actively used to suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom.”

“Abolishing these offences will allow the UK to take a lead in challenging similar laws in other countries, where they are used to suppress free speech.”

Sedition and criminal libel evolved from some of Britain’s oldest laws, such as the Statute of Westminster 1275, when the divine right of the King and the principles of a feudal society were not questioned.

According to the writers association English PEN, seditious libel was established by the Star Chamber case De Libellis Famosis of 1606. Not only was truth no defence, but intention was irrelevant, as was the actual harm (reputational or otherwise) done by the libel. Punishments for the crime included imprisonment and the loss of the offenders’ ears.

Seditious libel (criticism of the government) was closely linked to blasphemous libel (criticism of religion), since church and state were interchangeable at the time. Blasphemy and blasphemous libel was abolished in 2008 as part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

Criminal libel and seditious libel laws were used extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most famously against the renegade MP and civil rights campaigner John Wilkes, whose publication, ‘North Briton’, was declared a seditious libel and publicly burned.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • 3M, Honeywell and a few others make N95 and N99 face masks (File)

    Canadian city of Toronto apologises to Sikh security guards over N95 mask row

    The Canadian city of Toronto has apologised to the World Sikh Organization of Canada for any delay' in reinstating Sikh security guards hired by contracted service providers who may have been terminated over a 'no-beard' policy that forced them to choose between their jobs and their faith. A report by the Toronto Sun said over 100 guards had been fired over a rule that requires them to be clean-shaven so they can wear N95 masks.

  • Britain prime minister Boris Johnson (File/Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP)

    Explained: Who could be new UK PM, what is the method and how long will it take?

    The prime minister secured a narrow win last month's confidence vote - that gavBoris Johnson'sim 12 months' immunity from another. Lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party are already working to shorten that period. Boris Johnson's time as UK prime minister, it appears, is nearing its end. What next for Boris Johnson? The simplest would be for the prime minister to decide he has lost the support of his party and resign of his own volition.

  • Newly-appointed British chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi.

    Nadhim Zahawi: Rishi Sunak's successor whose family fled Saddam Hussein's regime

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday appointed Nadhim Zahawi as the new chancellor of the exchequer, replacing Rishi Sunak who had earlier resigned from the cabinet in protest against Johnson's leadership. Zahawi's appointment also comes at a time when the British government is trying to tackle the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation. As a trained chemical engineer, Zahawi went on to work in the oil industry. He backed Brexit in 2016.

  • FILE PHOTO: A general view of village houses at Hong Kong border facing the skyscrapers in Shenzhen, in Hong Kong, China.

    Why property developers in China accepting house payments in watermelons, wheat

    Real estate firms in China have now started accepting payments for homes in watermelon, wheat, garlic and several other agricultural produce, Chinese daily The Global Times reported. Realtors in tier-3 and 4 cities are encouraging home buyers to pay part of the house payment with wheat and garlic. Experts say that China's economy, battered by multiple Covid-19 curbs, has shown slow post-lockdown recovery.

  • A man clears debris from a driveway near a bus inundated by floodwaters on a residential street, following heavy rains and severe flooding in the McGraths Hill suburb of Sydney, on July 6, 2022. 

    Homes of 85,000 people at risk, but rain eases around Sydney

    Floodwaters had inundated or were threatening the homes of 85,000 people around Sydney on Wednesday as rivers started to recede and the heavy rains tracked north of Australia's largest city. Emergency responders knocked on doors overnight in the towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook, in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, to order residents to evacuate, Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said. “For many, it has been a sleepless night,” Cooke said.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, July 06, 2022