I TAKE my hat off to Tony Higgins, the Labour councillor for Fairfield and Howley, and cabinet member responsible for communities on Warrington Borough Council.

Cllr Higgins was recently interviewed by Aran Dhillon, about the future of the United States following the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, and while I’m not sure Cllr Higgins’s views will carry much weight in Washington (or Warrington for that matter), I was intrigued when he strayed into the area of free speech.

While his opinions about President Biden are marginal at best, the subject of free speech is actually very relevant here in Warrington.

According to Cllr Higgins, the decision of Facebook, Twitter and other social media to block former President Donald Trump was wrong, saying: “People have a right to freedom of speech and people can call them out for it – how can you call anyone out if is not in the public domain?

“You need to prove them wrong, you can’t prove anyone wrong if you shut them down?”

To be fair to Cllr Higgins, he was as good as his word, joining in the ‘conversation’ in the comments section on the Guardian’s web page.

But before we all rush off saying exactly what we like, when we like and on our social media of choice, I think it’s right to pause and have a look at exactly what freedom of speech means in this country.

As someone with a vested interest in the subject, I am well aware of the boundaries that cannot be crossed.

In this country, the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in law, specifically Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

So all those people out there complaining their freedom of speech has been impinged because they’ve had a ‘cease and desist’ solicitor’s letter because of the stuff they’ve posted on Facebook (yes, there are more than a few in the town), or those who have had a visit from the police advising them to stop posting stuff, will be pointing to Article 10 to prove their point. On more than one occasion over recent weeks, I’ve seen Facebook posts and comments in the Guardian that various people/organisations are ‘stifling free speech’.

But read on.

The second part of Article 10 states: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Cutting through the legal jargon, your freedom of expression stops at the point where the protection of the reputation or rights of others starts.

You are not free to write what you want when you want.

This is where the laws relating to libel and harassment start to kick in.

So to all those keyboard warriors who think their ‘freedom of speech’ is being stifled, I suggest buying yourself an up to date copy of the book McNae's Essential Law for Journalists and give the section on libel a good read.

On another topic, my heart goes out to all the people affected by the recent floods. I can’t imagine the devastation and disruption to your lives and I hope you can get everything back to normal sooner rather than later.

But while this was and is a grim time for all those affected, I found the community and business response particularly heartwarming.

That so many individuals, groups, businesses and organisations were so quick to rally round shows there is still much good in our town.