Publisher censors judge’s comments on free speech

11 August 2020

Tim Dieppe comments on Hodder Education’s recent decision to censor a judge’s comments on free speech in an A-Level law magazine.

Publisher Hodder Education publishes a magazine aimed at A-level law students called A-level Law Review. Ian Yule, who has been chairman of the editorial board of the magazine for nine years, wrote an article for the magazine about the important case of Harry Miller which was heard in the High Court earlier this year. However, the article was heavily redacted, including censoring some of the judge’s comments in the judgment, after transgender campaign group Mermaids argued they might cause offence.

Harry Miller’s free speech legal case

Harry Miller, as you may remember, is a former police officer who had the police contact him about a collection of tweets critical of transgender ideology. Someone had reported him for hate speech, and the police officer who spoke to Miller famously said I need to check your thinking.” Miller subsequently decided to sue the police over the whole ‘hate speech’ agenda. In the judgment, Mr Justice Knowles rightly ruled that the police’s investigation into Harry Miller unlawfully restricted his freedom of expression. The judge compared the actions of the police to the world of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, in which there are thoughtcrimes.

Article referred to Mermaids for comment

The Sunday Times reported that Hodder Education referred Yule’s article on the ruling to transgender activist group Mermaids for a second opinion. Mermaids was asked to suggest “examples we can use to counteract the tone and opinions in the piece” and to suggest changes to “anything you feel is untrue, unfair and/or offensive.” Hodder had already heavily edited the court report, removing as much as two-thirds of the original, explaining, “We also have to be very careful how we present certain views.”

Mermaids responded with a four-page critique of the article by its head of legal and policy which claimed that the article “doesn’t come over as balanced.”

James Benefield, a senior executive at Hodder, passed on Mermaids review to Yule and told him: “Mermaids have requested quite a few changes here. It is important we do follow all of the attached advice — not only is it from a trans-specialist organisation, it is also from the company lawyer who felt they were best placed to review the piece.” Benefield claimed that it was “an issue of balance rather than of censorship or freedom of speech.”

Another member of the editorial board suggested that A-level Law Review could pioneer “trigger warnings” for articles that some students might find offensive and provide independent sources of advice for students at the end of potentially hard-hitting articles.

Judge’s comments ‘offensive’

Yule protested: “This article contained little or no commentary by me, and no comments whatsoever on the issue of transgenderism.” He added: “My article did not express my own thoughts or beliefs but was a straightforward and accurate report of a High Court judgment.”

A Hodder editor told Mr Yule: “The claimant’s [Harry Miller’s] views and the judge’s [Mr Justice Knowles’s] comments about transgender issues would be offensive to most of our readers and our staff.”

Ian Yule commented: “If the judgement of a respected High Court judge is likely to upset such students and their teachers, they have no business studying or teaching the subject.”

Yule was so angered by Hodder’s behaviour that he resigned as chairman of the editorial board of A-level Law Review. He wrote to colleagues: “In the process of ‘reviewing’ my article [Mermaids] effectively destroyed it.”

Whither free speech?

Yule said that the publisher’s behaviour was “far beyond parody” because at the time of the dispute, J.K. Rowling, whose stories are published by Hachette which owns Hodder Education, was facing  intense criticism for speaking out against transgenderism. A group of Hachette employees then objected to being asked to work on Rowling’s latest story, The Ichabog. Hachette responded by telling staff: “Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of publishing. We fundamentally believe that everyone has the right to express their own thoughts and beliefs.”

Hodder Education, influenced by Mermaids, considered that the judge’s comments in an important High Court case on free speech were too offensive to include in an article aimed at A-level law students! What this shows is how censorious Mermaids are. Harry Miller commented that the episode shows how transgender activists show no respect for the law “because unless you go 100% along with what they want, anything less is not good enough.”

It bears repeating. The judgment in an important free speech legal case was deemed too offensive for A-level Law students! Mermaids wanted the judge’s comments to be censored. If a legal case about free speech is censored from law students, then free speech is only just about on life support. Hodder and Mermaids should be held to account for their ridiculous censorship of important comments on free speech.

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