Report No. 101
5.2. Position in England.-
Both these prefatory observations apply to England which, as yet, has no written guarantee of fundamental rights, nor a codified law dealing with the freedom of expression even as an ordinary right.1 Therefore, the question whether a corporation (or any other entity) can claim the freedom of speech and expression must in the context of English law, be dealt with only by a statement of rules of ordinary law-and that too, primarily on a study of the judicial decisions. English books on constitutional law (or on the law of torts) do not generally devote much space to a discussion of the very narrow point with which we are at the moment concerned, namely, whether a corporation (or other entity) can claim the freedom of speech and expression like a natural person.
However, from the fact that occasionally, in England, a corporation has been proceeded against for some crime (such as libel or blasphemy) or for some tort, constituted by the publication of allegedly offending matter and the proceeding has failed by reason of some rule of the ordinary law which recognises some privilege, one can deduce that a corporation in England possesses the same right to freedom of speech and expression as a natural person. Perhaps, it may be worthwhile elaborating the statement just now made. The chain of reasoning may be thus expressed. In England, a person is entitled to speak or write as he pleases, so long as he does not commit a breach of a specific rule of law punishing particular type of speech or writing or rendering it actionable. It is a general principle of English constitutional law that a subject is free to do everything which is not specifically rendered illegal by a rule of law2. This applies in the sphere of expression, as it applies in other spheres3.
If a particular speech or writing does not fall within such specific prohibitory rule, a prosecution or civil proceeding (against the speaker or the writer) based on the speech or writing, would fall. Now, such prosecutions or proceedings against corporations have actually failed in the past, because the prosecutor or plaintiff could not prove that the writing or speech in question fell within the four corners of the prohibitory rule. Since the defendant in these cases was a corporation, this result could have been arrived at, only if the law recognises that a corporation, like a natural person, has the freedom to speak or write any matter that does not violate a specific prohibitory rule of law. By this chain of reasoning, one can conclude that in this sphere a corporation has the same right as a natural person.
1. Generally, see Margaret Demeriux Delineation of Right to Freedom of Expression, (Winter 1980) Public Law 359.
2. Halsbury's, 4th Edn., Vol. 8 (Constitutional Law), p. 548.
3. As to freedom of expression, see De Smith Constitutional and Administrative Law, (2nd Edn.), pp. 482-496.