• In the case of Handyside v United Kingdom 1976 ECHR 5 [1976] 1 EHRR 737 at 751 it was found that the confiscation of a book deemed to be obscene did not violate the right to freedom of expression.

Facts of the Case

  • The applicant, an English Publisher, was charged and convicted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and 1964 for ‘having in his possession obscene books entitled The Little Red Schoolbook for publication for gain’.
  • Copies of the book were later seized and destroyed (including the book’s matrix).
  • The applicant was ordered to pay costs and a fine of £50.
  • The book was published circulated in Europe and parts of the United Kingdom without prosecution.
  • After, the applicant published s revised edition of the Schoolbook and there were no further criminal proceedings.
  • The applicant alleged breaches of Articles 1,7,9,10,13 and 14 of the Convention and of Article 1 of .Protocol No.1 The Commission declared admissible the complaints under Article 10 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No.1. it also decided ex officio to consider Articles 17 and 18 of the convention.
  • The remaining complaints were declared to be inadmissible.
  • The Commission by a majority concluded that there had been no breach of Article 10 or of Article 1 of Protocol No.1. it referred the case to the Court.

Issues in Handyside v United Kingdom 1976 ECHR 5 [1976] 1 EHRR 737 at 751

  • Was there a breach of freedom of speech against the appellant?

Held by European Court of Human Rights

  • Appeal dismissed with no breach of Article 10 established.


Elaborate on the judgment

  • Held by the plenary Court, by 13 votes to 1, that the interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression was ‘prescribed by law’ and ‘necessary in a democratic society… for the protection of morals’ under Article 10(2).
  • There had been no violation of Article 10.
  • It was also held unanimously that there had been no breach of Articles 14 and 18 of the convention or of Article 1 of Protocol No.1.
  • “…whilst the adjective ‘necessary’, within the meaning of Article 10(2), is not synonymous with ‘indispensable’, neither has it the flexibility of such expressions as ‘admissible’, ‘ordinary’, ‘useful’, ‘reasonable’, or ‘desirable’.” Pg.48

The domestic ‘margin of appreciation’ went hand in hand with a ‘European supervision’.…Freedom of expression constituted one of the essential foundations of a ‘democratic society. Subject to Article 10 (2), it applied to information which caused offence or shock. Any restriction of freedom of expression had to be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”:  pg.49