Court of Human RightsOn 22 April 2013 the Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights will hand down judgment in the “political communication” case of Animal Defenders International v United Kingdom.  The case was heard over a year ago, on 7 March 2012.  The case concerns the ban on the broadcasting of political advertising in sections 319 and 321 of the Communications Act 2003 which the applicant contends is a violation of its Article 10 right to freedom of expression.

If the application is successful it will have wide ranging consequences for the use of television and radio by political parties and campaigning groups in the United Kingdom.  The Government will be required to remove the blanket ban and permit political advertising in some, clearly defined, circumstances.  This could open the way to advertising by political parties on television in some circumstances.

Although the spectre has been raised of large corporations and other powerful organisations engaging in large scale political advertising campaigns, it is likely that party political advertising will be tightly controlled.  The implications for campaigning groups are likely to be more significant – with lobbying groups competing for television advertising time in relation to a wide range of issues.

We summarised the background to the case in a post in March 2012.  In summary, the applicant Animal Defenders International (“ADI”), is a non-governmental organisation which, in 2005, was refused permission to screen a TV advertisement with the title “My Mate’s a Primate” (which can be seen on You Tube). The applicant failed to overturn the in the Administrative Court  ([2006] EWHC 3069 (Admin)) in the House of Lords in March 2008 ([2008] UKHL 15). It was held that the prohibition on political advertising under UK law was justified by the aim of preventing policies from being decided by the highest spenders and that, as applied in ADI’s case, it was not incompatible with Article 10.

ADI applied to the Court of Human Rights and, on 29 November 2011, the Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.  The “Statement of Facts and Issues” can be found here. The Grand Chamber posed the following question to the parties:

“Was the interference (based on sections 319 and 321 of the Communications Act 2003) with the applicant association’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention, “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 10(2) of the Convention as interpreted in the light of the court’s previous case law (namely Verein Gegen Tierfabriken Schweiz v Switzerland 28 June 2001, No. 24699/94 (“VgT”); Murphy v. Ireland 10 July 2003, No. 44179/99 (“Murphy”); and  TV Vest AS and Rogaland Pensjonistparti v Norway. 11 December 2008. No. 21132/05) (“TV Vest”).