Society of Legal Scholars Annual Seminar 2024 – The Future for Liberal Ideals: How Far Should Political Rights of Free Speech and Public Protest Tolerate Intolerance

Tuesday 11 – Wednesday 12 June 2024, Preston, UK


Attention academics, practitioners, students etc with interests in human rights! The School of Law and Policing at the University of Central Lancashire is privileged and excited to be hosting the 2024 Annual Seminar of the Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) on the topics of free speech, tolerance and responsibility. This seminar will take place over two days in June, Tuesday 11 – Wednesday 12 June 2024. 

There is a rise in hate; for example, the online extreme right narrative has proved popular with the young. 15% of young people and 20% of young male respondents to a May 2020 poll in the UK believed the official account of the Nazi Holocaust was a lie and the number of Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II had been exaggerated on purpose. There is a natural desire to suppress narratives of this nature, but, in censoring these, what about the competing considerations of political rights such as free speech and assembly, especially in liberal democracies? 

The approaches to political rights differ between the United Kingdom (UK) and other countries, such as the United States (US). The First Amendment of the American Constitution, free speech, drawing heavily on its classical liberal roots, is couched in absolute terms. A legitimate interference with free speech in the US is possible but this is exceptional. This is especially so when compared to the UK and the test that is applied in the British courts, ‘proportionality’, to Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Right (ECHR), the freedoms of expression and of association and assembly respectively. Proportionality is a weaker standard of review than the test adopted in the US, ‘strict scrutiny’. In the UK, therefore, much less speech and public protest is tolerated than in America. So this seminar is an opportunity to critique limitations on political rights in the UK from, say, an American, classical liberal perspective. 

However, Article 17 of the ECHR, which applies to the UK, prohibits the ‘abuse of rights’. So in the UK claiming the rights of free speech, public protest etc, as a mechanism for denying the same rights of others, as extremists do, is an abuse of rights. Article 10 of the ECHR also imposes a duty of responsibility on the speaker. Maybe the traditional approach of classical liberalism in America, in terms of the degree of speech and public assembly it permits, needs to be reconsidered? In seemingly permitting the intimidation, hate etc of minority groups, such as those based on race, religion, gender, sexuality etc, is the classical liberal approach to free speech too tolerant of expression that denies the same rights to others? Whilst this decries the expression of some speech, does it not encourage the expression of marginalised groups who have traditionally lacked a voice? So, in the rise of the narrative of extremists, this seminar is an opportunity to critique the absolutist nature of political rights in other countries, such as America. But this ‘binary’ approach to political rights, from American and British perspectives, is not the only issue(s) to be explored in the seminar: it merely provides a context to some of the many themes to be examined. Other themes of the seminar include: regional and international free speech; freedom of association and assembly, including the policing of free speech and protest; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; academic freedom; the internet, social media and chat rooms; populism; theories and concepts of free speech eg liberalism, libertarianism, communitarianism, Marxism; and war, national security, public emergency and counter-terrorism. 

We have a distinguished international speaker in attendance: Professor Alexander Tsesis, from the College of Law, at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, USA. Alex is the author of eg Free Speech in the Balance (Cambridge University Press, 2020). 

There are 27 other confirmed speakers including: 

  • Professor Eric Heinze – School of Law Queen Mary College, University of London
  • Professor Gavin Phillipson – School of Law, University of Bristol
  • Professor Jacob Rowbottom – Faculty of Law, University of Oxford
  • Jemima Steinfeld – Editor-in-Chief, Index on Censorship, UK
  • Dr Natalie Alkiviadou, Senior Research Fellow at the Future of Free Speech at Vanderbilt University (USA). 

If you would like to be a delegate at the annual seminar, which would be great, please register to express your interest. Delegate numbers are limited, sadly, so your attendance will have to be confirmed, at a later date. 

Organiser and contact: Dr Ian Turner, Reader in Human Rights and Security, the School of Law and Policing, the University of Central Lancashire. Email: 


Find more information and book your free place here:

This event will be held at University of Central Lancashire, Harris Building, 170 Corporation Street, Preston, UK.

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