About Free Speech

These pages provide background information about the history of freedom of expression from the Athenian Agora and the Roman Forum of classical antiquity to its development in more recent times as a key human right and a cornerstone of modern democratic life. 


  • A Brief History of London’s Speakers’ Corner

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    While Britain’s constitution remains famously unwritten (and it was only in 1998 that Parliament formally adopted its own Human Rights Act), this country has had a tradition of respect for freedom of speech and the right of assembly which has not only shaped its own democracy but has also inspired and continues to influence the development of others.

  • Other Speakers’ Corners in the UK

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    Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park is known the world over. But other town and cities throught the UK (and elsewhere) boasted their own now largely forgotten Speakers’ Corners. Most were informal spaces, adopted as platforms by campaigners, political activists and evangelists in or near market places or other town centre sites. Once vibrant forums for proselytising, debate and exchange, most had fallen into disuse by the end of the 1960s, unable to compete with the mass media which progressively replaced the street corner and the public meeting as the place where ideas and opinions were discussed, influenced and formed.

  • Free Speech and Democracy

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    The exchange and development of ideas among citizens has been at the heart of vigorous civil life from the time of the first classical experiments in democracy. The agora of ancient Athens and the Roman forum were market places not just for goods but also for the public debate which provided the focus for civil society then and have influenced western culture ever since.

  • Timeline: A History of Free Speech

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    From Socrates to SOCA, a freedom of speech timeline which originally appeared in The Observer of 5 February 2005.

  • Speaking of Free Speech

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    What great men and women have said about freedom of expression, from Hannah Arendt to Woodrow Wilson.

  • The Right to Freedom of Expression

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    From the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in revolutionary France to the incorporation into British statute of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998, the pursuit and guarantee of freedom of expression and assembly has been recognised as fundamental to the rights of citizens in democratic societies.

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