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Lawyers' last push to get charity ad ban lifted

8 March 2012

Animal Defenders International, the animal protection charity, edged closer to getting an advertising ban lifted after a hearing in the European Court of Human Rights yesterday, according to its lawyer.

The charity planned a television and radio campaign in 2005, ‘My mate’s a primate’, aimed at raising awareness of the plight of animals held in zoos and circuses.

It was banned by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre on the grounds that ADI was regarded as a political group under the Communications Act 2003.

The decision was upheld by the High Court in 2006 and by the House of Lords in 2008 (see solicitorsjournal.com, 13 March 2008, Law lords clash over European Court of Human Rights).

On reaching the human rights court the application (no. 48876/08) went straight to a grand chamber, a move that usually occurs “when the court believes the case raises a serious issue or that there could be an inconsistency with previous cases”, the charity’s solicitor, Tamsin Allen, told Solicitors Journal.

At a half-day hearing in Strasbourg yesterday, ADI argued that the ban was so restrictive that it breached the right to freedom of expression in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The 20-judge strong panel didn’t ask any questions, which is not uncommon but suggests they could already have reached a decision on the basis of the written arguments.

Allen, a partner at civil liberties firm Bindmans, said the court’s existing case law was in favour of her client.

In 2001 Switzerland had to pay SF20,000 to Verein gegen Tierfabriken Schweiz (VgT), an organisation which campaigns against experimentation on animals and battery farming, after a Strasbourg ruling in similar circumstances.

A 17-judge grand chamber found further in 2009 that the Swiss courts’ failure to give effect to the earlier decision constituted a new breach of VgT’s article 10 rights.

In 2005 the Strasbourg court ruled likewise in TV Vest v Norway, a case involving the Norwegian Pensioners Party, that an absolute and permanent broadcasting ban went beyond a state’s margin of appreciation in article 10.

“The UK is defending a very wide blanket ban on broadcast advertising by campaign groups, which includes many charities,” Allen said.

She added that the group had been banned from advertising because it sought to “influence public opinion on a matter of controversy”.

“This cannot be justified given the importance of freedom of expression in a healthy democracy.”

ADI was represented by Hugh Tomlinson QC and Aidan O’Neill QC.

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