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The right to freedom of expression

The right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated: 09th November 2022


This right often comes up in:
Anti-discrimination, LGBTQ+ rights, journalism, privacy, data and surveillance and protest


Absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

This right is about being able to have your own opinions and to express them without government interference. This includes being able to receive and share information and ideas.

This right means:

  • We are free to express our views in many ways. For example, through articles, books, internet, television, radio, public demonstrations, artwork, social media.

  • All types of expression are protected for example, political, cultural, commercial, and artistic expression.

  • We can hold and express unpopular opinions, including opinions which might shock others (although our right to do this can be restricted – see below).

  • We can receive information from others e.g via magazines or exchange ideas e.g. by attending a debate.

  • We have a free press. This means the media is not controlled by the Government.

  • Journalists are protected from revealing their sources.

Can my right to freedom of expression be restricted by a public official?

Yes. This is a non-absolute right which means it can be limited or restricted in certain circumstances. For example, the government may decide to restrict a person’s freedom of expression if it puts other people’s rights at risk.

Freedom of expression does include the freedom to express unpopular or shocking ideas but the Government can restrict this right if you encourage violence against other people or if you unlawfully discriminate against people. Unlawful discrimination is covered by Article 14 in our Human Rights Act.

If a public official is deciding to restrict your right to freedom of expression, they must go through a test. They must be able to show that their decision is:


There is a law which allows public officials to take that action or decision.


There is a good reason (for example public safety or protecting the rights of other people, including your family members or staff).


They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It is the least restrictive option.


You can ask the public official about their decision or action and ask them to tell you how it was lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

If you can think of a way to deal with this situation or decision that is less restrictive to you then you can raise it with the public official as the decision may not be proportionate.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means public officials (including the government) should not interfere with the right to freedom of expression, unless it is necessary, and they can show that this is the case.

To protect your right:

This means that the government and people working in public bodies should take ‘reasonable and appropriate’ measures to protect our right to freedom of expression.

To fulfil your right:

When things go wrong, regarding the right to freedom of expression, there should be an investigation and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.