The use of the courts to shut down freedom of speech and even humour under the guise of punishing ‘hate speech’ proceeds apace. One such high profile recent case was that of the troubled former football star Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne. Gazza was arrested after cracking a joke at the expense of a black security guard who had been assigned to protect him. He said to the guard ‘smile so I can see you’. Now that’s not a nice joke, it’s not even that funny, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t in a truly free society warrant a fine of £1,000 along with another £1,000 as compensation to the security guard.
Someone who also sees the perniciousness of this case is the writer Brendan O’Neill who writing in the Spectator magazine decries this case and calls it a ‘show trial’.
Mr O’Neill said:
Is it a crime now to tell rubbish jokes? The bizarre and frankly cruel treatment of Paul Gascoigne suggests it might be. Yesterday, at Dudley Magistrates Court, Gazza was found guilty of using ‘threatening or abusive words’ and fined £2,000. His crime was to say the following about a black security guard who had been assigned to look after him during his show An Evening With Gazza at Wolverhampton Civic Hall last year: ‘Can you smile please, because I can’t see you?’ Some people might find that funny; I, personally, don’t. But a court case? A criminal record? A fine? For cracking a joke? The precedent set by this case is terrifying.
Next time one of our politicians does a lip-wobbly speech about foreign regimes that arrest comics and satirists, remember this criminalisation of Gazza. Remember that right here, in supposedly liberal Britain, where barely a day passes without some politician chirping about how free speech is our core value, you can be taken to court and fined for making a joke. Gazza’s £2,000 punishment — £1,000 of which is a punitive fine, the other £1,000 compensation to the target of joke, Errol Rowe — means he’s being forced to pay £222 for every word of what he thought was his amusing aside. Next time you tell a controversial joke, keep it short: the punishment can be stiff.
The horrendous nature of the Gazza case — once again, people: a man taken to court for telling a joke — is summed up in the judge’s arrogant comments. In his slamming of Gazza, District Judge Graham Wilkinson decreed ‘it is not acceptable to laugh words like this off as some form of joke’. Wait, what? Judges, agents of the state, now get to decide what people may laugh at? To determine what sort of jokes it’s acceptable to tell? How long before all comedians, or non-comedians like Gazza who are considering making a wisecrack or two in public, will have to submit their gags to a committee of moral guardians in advance of uttering them on stage? A country in which a judge can rule that certain forms of humour are ‘not acceptable’, and punish you for dabbling in them, is not a free country.
Read the rest of this excellent article here: