Thursday, June 23, 2005

Where do you draw the line?

It's sunny, there's wall to wall Wimbledon on the telly, and those things have conspired to put me in such a good mood that you can have two posts today. Also, I can't decide between them!

First, the serious stuff: news in The Guardian that a foul mouthed abusive ranter has got away with it in court for a second time. His two year tirade to his MP against the government's policies on asylum seekers and immigrants brought him to the attention of the Crown. He was charged in his local magistrate's court with offences against the Telecoms Act, basically for using expletives and what any sane rational person would call explicitly racist language. However, the magistrates let him off on the grounds that although his language was "offensive" it was not "grossly offensive". Oh, so that's okay then...

The reason it's in the news today is because the case went to the appeal court. Now, a couple of high court judges have deemed that the magistrates made a legally correct decision. How so? Because out of the 3 people in the MP's office who had to deal with the calls, none of them were members of an ethnic community, and while one found the calls "upsetting", the other two did not. As the man's language hadn't actually caused any offence to these parties, it couldn't be deemed grossly offensive.

D'ya know what? It's stuff like this that made me decide to become a teacher and not a lawyer. If I'd been the prosecuting counsel, I'd have stabbed a few judges by now and would be spending time at Her Majesty's pleasure myself.

But there's something else that's interesting here, apart from where we choose, as a society, to draw the lines on language acceptability. What's also really intrigued me is exactly what the Telecoms Act is and how its instrumental power can be used by the courts to control our language use. I tried reading a bit of this Act but nearly died of brain ache, so if anyone with a legal turn of mind wants to give us the edited highlights, do post here - you can write loads more if you click comments at the bottom of the post than if you talk on the message board. Very interesting if you've been working on Language and Technology, or Language and Power...

Nationalist's phone rants 'not grossly offensive'

Telecoms regulation


At 3:33 pm, Blogger Dan said...

How about "giving him a lift" to south London and ask him to repeat his rants in a pub in say, Peckham and then to run a straw poll with the regulars in there...

Might be a better judge of what's offensive than a few port-heads in the judiciary.

At 8:18 am, Blogger E-Julie said...

I like that idea a lot, Dan!


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