Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Join The Debate……

…….any debate.! If you are in London and are short of something to do on  Sunday (although if you are in London, that should never be a problem) why not pay a visit to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park.

Tucked into the north east corner of the park, close to Marble Arch, you will find groups of people gathering around the various speakers, listening, arguing, debating or just plain raging over a wide range of subjects. Inevitably, of course, the most popular subjects are religion and politics in all of their wide and varied flavours. Supporters and opponents of the various factions gather around a speaker, who, although soap boxes are in short supply these days, usually stand on something to raise themselves above the rest of the crowd and “discuss” their chosen subject.

Apart from the big two subjects you may find groups discussing just about anything from social reform to your favourite TV program. Some of the best speakers don’t seem to have any agenda at all and just free range through whatever comes into their or their audiences heads.

Speakers Corner has its origins in the mid 1800’s. During periods of social unrest  the issue of the right to speak in Hyde Park was raised and eventually the Parks Regulation Act of 1872 placed the responsibility for permitting public meetings with the parks authorities rather than with central government.

 Speakers Corner is often put forward as the showcase of the concept of freedom of speech, although this concept is not just restricted to this location. Also, contrary to popular belief you are not allowed to say whatever you like within the confines Speakers Corner without fear of prosecution. The laws concerning slander or incitement apply here as they do anywhere else, however, providing that any statement made here does not lead directly to a riot or a personal complaint, the police and park authorities rarely get involved.

Interestingly, the ruling in a court case in 1999 established in English case law that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but should also include “the irritating, the contentious, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence”. Also, the right to free speech as set out in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights also accorded the right to be offensive!

So if you want to present your point of view on any subject, or to argue against someone else’s opinion……or even if you just want to be entertained, pay a visit to Speakers Corner on any Sunday. You will be in good company, past combatants include Karl Marx, Lenin, George Orwell, William Morris and my Grandfather, who has vehemently against religion of any kind and would, apparently, regularly harangue religious speakers of all denominations!

Finally. Why that has this corner of  Hyde Park become the focus of the Capitol’s free speakers? There are various theories but my favourite is that it is close to the location of the Tyburn Tree. Formerly London’s main place of public execution, where the condemned were allowed to speak freely before being hanged! 

More of my pics here and pics from others here