Animal Defenders International v United Kingdom: Sensible Dialogue or a Bad Case of Strasbourg Jitters?

AuthorTom Lewis
Publication Date01 May 2014
Animal Defenders International vUnited Kingdom: Sensible
Dialogue or a Bad Case of Strasbourg Jitters?
Tom Lewis*
In Animal Defenders International vUnited Kingdom a majority of the Grand Chamber of the
European Court of Human Rights held that the UK’s statutory broadcasting ban on political
advertisements under the Communications Act 2003 did not breach the right to freedom of
expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment
departs from the Court’s established case law and, it is argued, raises several issues of concern both
with regard to freedom of expression, and for human rights adjudication more generally. In
particular, the Court’s use of a doctrine of ‘general measures’ led it to place a great deal of reliance
on the quality and quantity of legislative debate that preceded the UK ban, rather than its actual
impact upon the applicant.
In Animal Defenders International vUnited Kingdom (ADI) the Grand Chamber of
the European Court of Human Rights (the Grand Chamber), having deliberated
for over thirteen months, held that the United Kingdom’s statutory ban on paid
political advertisements in the broadcast media did not breach the free speech
rights of an animal rights NGO that wished to broadcast an advertisement
publicising the ill treatment of primates in captivity.1The Grand Chamber
reached its decision by the slenderest of majorities, nine to eight, and in so doing
departed from its recent case law on broadcast political advertising. The case
raises serious issues concerning the adjudication of freedom of expression cases,
and of human rights cases more generally. Some of these concerns will be
explored below, following a summary of the factual and legal background to the
The Communications Act 2003 prohibits the broadcasting of political advertise-
ments on television and radio.2This follows previous statutory bans going back
*Centre for Conflict, Rights and Justice, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University.
1Animal Defenders International vUnited Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 21. The hearing was held on 7
March 2012. The Fourth Section of the Court relinquished jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber
under Article 30 of the European Convention on Human Rights on 29 November 2011.
2 Communications Act 2003, s 319(2)(g). Section 333 retains the previous regime which applied to
Party Political and Party Election Broadcasts, time for which is allocated, free of charge, to the
biggest political parties.
© 2014 The Author. The Modern Law Review © 2014 The Modern Law Review Limited. (2014) 77(3) MLR 460–492
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

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