Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to hear ground-breaking challenge to UK’s ban on

Posted: 6 March 2012. Updated: 6 March 2012


A hearing in the Grand Chamber at the European Court of Human Rights this Wednesday, 7th March 2012, could remove a gagging order on organisations campaigning in the UK.

The test case of Animal Defenders International (ADI) v. the United Kingdom will be heard, regarding ADI’s complaint that it has been denied the possibility to advertise on TV and radio as it has been categorized as a “political” group and refused the right to free speech.

ADI is confident that the European Court will find that the ban violates the right to freedom of expression and that relevant provisions of the Communications Act 2003 are incompatible with human rights.

09.15, Wednesday 7th March
The Grand Chamber, The European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe,
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France

Jan Creamer, ADI’s Chief Executive said: “It is quite clear to us that UK advertising laws do not comply with the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and we are confident that we will win this case.”

“At present the law effectively bans the broadcast of any advert on a matter of controversy, by anyone seeking to do something about that issue. So whilst primates and other animals can be used to sell products, it is not permitted to create awareness about the impacts on those animals. Our commercial advertised a pack which outlined the threats to primates. It was banned not because of content or accuracy but because of who we are. Our case revolves around the freedom of a company or organisation to enter into a national debate on television or radio – and the right to freedom of speech.”

The case concerns ADI’s hard hitting ‘My Mate’s A Primate’ campaign, which highlights the suffering and abuse of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom – including in circuses, advertising and laboratories – and the threats to their wild populations. ADI were banned from any television or radio broadcast regardless of content.

The iniquity of the situation was highlighted by the fact that at the same time soft drinks giant Pepsi were using a performing chimpanzee in a TV commercial. Whereas ADI’s TV advert creating awareness about the suffering of performing chimpanzees was banned. The advert, that has now taken ADI all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, featured a voice-over by comedian Alexei Sayle and a young actress.

On completion, ADI approached the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) for clearance, but the BACC banned the adverty, not because of the content, but because ADI are deemed to be a ‘political’ group under the Communications Act 2003. The BACC decision was subsequently upheld by the High Court in December 2006 and by the House of Lords in March 2008. ADI therefore decided to bring their case to the European Court for a final decision.

ADI contests that the ban is too widely drafted as it includes organisations whose aims are to influence public opinion, and that the ban is not a justified interference with the right to freedom of expression because it is unnecessary and disproportionate.

ADI also believes that it creates unfairness as an oil company can broadcast a vanity advertisement claiming that it has green credentials, but environmental organisations cannot respond in the broadcast media.

ADI are being represented in Strasbourg by Tamsin Allen, media partner at Bindmans LLP who said: “The UK is defending a very wide blanket ban on broadcast advertising by campaign groups, which includes many charities. ADI, a peaceful campaigning group, has been banned from broadcasting its advertisement on the grounds that the group seeks to influence public opinion on a matter of controversy. This cannot be justified given the importance of freedom of expression in a healthy democracy. Commercial companies are free to advertise their products no matter how controversial they may be, but charities and campaign groups cannot. This is fundamentally unfair and creates a distorted message for UK TV viewers.”

Jan Creamer, who will be in Strasbourg for the hearing said: “The fact is that currently the UK Government prevents certain views from being expressed on television. It is legal for companies to use live performing chimpanzees and other animals to sell products even when the animals are simply used as a gimmick and bear no relation to what is being sold. Yet it is illegal for ADI to use the same medium to point out how animals like these are kept and trained. There is clearly a free speech issue here and an issue of basic fairness. We hope that justice and common sense will prevail.”

No other European or Commonwealth country has such tight controls on the broadcast of what is deemed “political” advertising. A similar ban in Switzerland was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights and replaced by a lesser restriction on the broadcast of party political and electoral advertising.

If the European Court of Human Rights does find in ADI’s favour, the next stage will be that the UK Government will either have to amend the legislation immediately, or face proceedings in Strasbourg which would almost certainly come to the same conclusion, in which case the Government would then be obliged to take steps to remedy the violation.

Concerns about the fairness of the ban have been expressed by many leading academics and it is widely considered that the ban will not survive in its current form following the attention of the European Court. ADI’s advertisement can be viewed here.

The European Court has decided ADI’s challenge should bypass the usual procedure and go straight to a 7 Judge Grand Chamber, an exceptional step which is taken only rarely, either when the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or when there is a risk of inconsistency with a previous judgment of the Court.


Notes for editors:
Copies of the banned advert are available in broadcast format, DVD and online.

Media Contact:
Angie Greenaway and Phil Buckley
07716 018250, 020 7630 3344


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