Lawyer proposes decriminalising free speech will enhance democratic practice

Oliver Barker-Vormawor, a Private Legal Practi­tioner, has proposed that in order to sustain and enhance democracy and democratic practice speech should be made absolutely free.

“The criminalisation of unde­sirable speech is inimical to the country’s democratic development and growth of the media and the only restraint on speech should be borne out of societal values and not criminal law, as the latter cre­ates an atmosphere of fear around speech,” he explained.

Mr Barker-Vormawor insisted that criminalising undesirable speech created an economy of fear around speech because the way democracy was sustained should enhance democratic practice which made speech absolutely free.

According to him, restrained speech came about when there was exchange between dialogue and argument and somebody issued a statement to disagree and was condemn so societal values should check speech and not through criminal law.

“Once criminal law is part of the processes, then you create economy of fear around speech but if socially, people can listen to one’s speech and condemn it, that should be fine since the person who says we agree with issues but do not agree with what you say, is absolutely fine.

“That is how the practice of democracy should operate since other voices will come in and chal­lenge the person’s speech which will give an opportunity to clarify so protecting undesirable speech is main notion behind establishment of freedom of speech.

“If it is desirable then, there is no concern about it and practice of democracy contemplates we will come across speech that we find undesirable and that is fine because by allowing undesirable speech, we create avenue for more desirable speech to sustain demo­cratic practice,” Mr Barker-Vorma­wor postulated.

For instance, he suggested that the principle by which legal practitioners were taught to look at criminal proceedings should be applied in laws relating to speech saying “it is better for one guilty person to be let off than innocent people to be locked up and we should bring same thinking to how speech operates.”

Mr Barker-Vormawor stressed on the need to achieve protection of speech and protection of the media, the laws must be propor­tionate and necessary to enable people to be able to speak more to enhance democratic dispensation.

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