You have a right to offend others, says Brandon Lewis as he promises free speech laws

Brandon Lewis - Leon Neal/Getty Images
Brandon Lewis - Leon Neal/Getty Images

People’s right to offend others will be protected by new laws, Brandon Lewis has pledged, as he warned human rights legislation should not be used as cover for “cancel culture”.

The Justice Secretary said he would be bringing forward new laws to protect freedom of speech after Liz Truss’s Government decided to pull her predecessor’s British Bill of Rights.

Mr Lewis said it would be part of separate pieces of new legislation that would also curb the ability of illegal migrants and foreign criminals to use human rights laws to avoid deportation, ensure courts recognised the supremacy of Parliament, and assert the primacy of UK law over Strasbourg.

Comedy’s role to offend

“I fundamentally agree in people’s right to offend,” Mr Lewis told a Policy Exchange fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, citing a piece by comic Rowan Atkinson that it was comedy’s role to offend.

“We need to ensure that we have a system of human rights that doesn’t create or give cover for cancel culture. I feel that today there’s a certain difference to what happened in the past because even our tolerance has changed. We are less tolerant of others and that is evolution and that happens to debate.

“If you restrict people’s ability to debate and you have a punitive culture then things don’t move on and they become trapped in one person’s worldview, which I think is very, very dangerous.”

He said the Government remained committed to reforming the Human Rights Act. “It was our 2019 manifesto that specifically laid out that we will update the Human Rights Act to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals and vital national security and effective government,” he said.

‘UK courts have primacy’

Mr Lewis said he would look particularly at addressing the current law’s requirement for UK courts to follow decisions made by the ECHR in Strasbourg, ensuring that “UK courts have primacy in and for UK law”.

He also said that the Government should “always seek to prioritise” protecting victims and the public from convicted offenders. Mr Lewis said: “That, to me, the protection of the public and looking after victims, has to be key and part of everything we do.

“That also plays into my overall approach, the one I intend to take as Justice Secretary, which is focusing on… convicted offenders never, ever being put over the safety of the public and protecting victims.”