All entries for Wednesday 21 May 2008

May 21, 2008

A judgement by Lord Denning to do with the National Front

I just found a really cool judgement  by Lord Denning, M.R. (I got bored of revision). The case is Verrall v Great Yarmouth BC [1980] 1 All E.R. 839.

I will just quote the good bits of the judgement (emphasis added).


The National Front is a political party. This is one of its stated principles:

"The National Front stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It therefore is opposed to all non-European immigration into Britain and is committed to a programme for the resettlement overseas of those non-European people already here."

Another principle is: "The National Front is implacably opposed to Communism and all other forms of Marxian Socialism." Those principles are abhorrent to many. Nevertheless, it is a political party. It is entitled to make its views known, so long as it does so peaceably and without inflaming others to violence.

The National Front has been in existence for some years. At the end of 1978 it made arrangements for its annual conference to be held this year, 1979, in Great Yarmouth at the Wellington Pier Pavilion on October 26 and 27, 1979. To that end it entered, by its officers, into negotiations with the officers of the Great Yarmouth Borough Council. The council was at that time controlled by a Conservative majority. They were fully aware of all the difficulties which might ensue - even the tumults and disturbances - if the conference were held there. In the course of the negotiations, there was much discussion in the council. The public in the gallery made their voices heard against any such conference being held. Nevertheless, after two or three meetings, the council deliberately decided to allow the National Front to hold its conference there.


On May 3 the Labour Party came into control at Great Yarmouth. One of the first things the new council did was to hold a special meeting on May 15. It passed a resolution that the approval for the use of the conference halls by the National Front be rescinded, the offer of facilities be withdrawn, and any payment sent back. So there it was. The new Labour-controlled council put everything into reverse.

Faced with this difficulty, the National Front tried to find a place elsewhere in which to hold their conference. They tried both in England and Wales. They are trying even now. No other town or city will receive them. So they have brought proceedings in the courts by a writ issued on August 6, 1979. They claim that a contract was made for the use of this conference hall for those two days, that it has been repudiated, and they claim specific performance of that contract.

The matter has come speedily before the courts. It came before Watkins J. After hearing the case argued for a day and a half, Watkins J. (and I would like to pay tribute to his judgment, which was prepared very quickly) came to the conclusion that the National Front should be entitled to go ahead with their conference and hold it in the Wellington Pier Pavilion. He granted a decree of specific performance accordingly, ordering the council to hold to their contract and allow the National Front to come in.


Watkins J. ordered the new council to perform the contract. He did so because of the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. These are among our most precious freedoms. Freedom of speech means freedom not only for the views of which you approve, but also freedom for the views you most heartily disapprove. This is a land, in the words of the poet:

"where a man may speak the things he will. A land of settled government. A land of just and old renown where freedom broadens slowly down from precedent to precedent."

But, mark you, freedom of speech can be abused. It can be used so as to promote violence; to propagate racial hatred and class warfare; and to undermine the structure of society itself. History provides examples. Such as when Hitler led the Germans to believe that they were the master race, and inflamed them so that they expelled and massacred the Jews. Or when the communists have used their freedom to destroy the freedom of others. If there were any evidence that the National Front were abusing this freedom, it might turn the scale. But there is no evidence of it here.

Freedom of assembly is another of our precious freedoms. Everyone is entitled to meet and assemble with his fellows to discuss their affairs and to promote their views: so long as it is not done to propagate violence or do anything unlawful. On this point I would stress - and it is very important that it should be stressed - that this is a private meeting of this political party. I will read what the plaintiff said in his affidavit:

"The conference which is to be held in Great Yarmouth is a private meeting. It is open to members and to invited members of the press only. Each person attending the meeting will be required to produce a current membership card validated by a regional officer of the National Front. A panel of senior members of the National Front will scrutinise the credentials of every person seeking entry to the meeting.

"There have been 12 such conferences in the past. There has never been any trouble inside such a meeting."

That is the meeting which is contemplated. It is essential under the constitution of this party that it should hold the meeting; that it should elect its officers and members for the ensuing year and the like; and that it should do all such things as are done at an annual conference of this kind.

The evidence is that if there is any trouble it will not be at the meeting at all. If it does occur, it will be outside caused by opponents of the National Front. There are societies such as the Anti-Nazi League who object to all the goings on of the National Front. Their members may threaten or assault the members of the National Front: or try to stop their meeting. It would then be those interrupters who would be the destroyers of freedom of speech. They cannot be allowed to disrupt the meeting by mass pickets, or by violent demonstrations, and the like. The police will, I hope, be present in force to prevent such disruptions.

In this case, in April the Great Yarmouth Borough Council made a deliberate decision. They took everything into account. They had all information before them. They must have decided that the dangers were not such as to lead them to withhold the use of their halls for the conference. The dangers are just the same now. The newly constituted council is bound by what the old constituted council did. The newly constituted council must honour the contract. I see no sufficient reason for not holding the council to their contract. In the interests of our fundamental freedoms - freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the importance of holding people to their contracts - we ought to grant specific performance in this case, as the judge did.

I would therefore dismiss the appeal.

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