Open and Free Criticism

This principle is underpinned by the concept of freedom of speech, which is the freedom to express and communicate one’s opinion publicly, without being punished for it.  

Sometimes known as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, people have the right to hold opinions without interference.  This extends to any medium, including written and oral communication, public protest and the media.    

Freedom of speech is important to the rule of law as the laws are made by the people (through their representatives). As the laws are made and administered on behalf of the people, there must be openness and transparency about their implementation. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and association provide opportunities for people to participate in the creation and refinement of laws that they must subsequently live by.

This transparency and citizen participation leads to the adoption of just laws, accountability and good governance. 

Free Speech and the Media

The rule of law requires freedom of speech and freedom of the media.

People must be free to comment and assemble without fear and be able to criticise the actions of government. The role of the journalists in this process is pivotal. The media remains an effective means of promoting accountability in government, and journalists play an essential role in upholding the rule of law. If their sources of information are not protected, and they themselves are open to legal action which prevents them from reporting in the public interest, the rule of law is threatened.

Uniform shield laws for journalist’s sources should be implemented across all Australian jurisdictions and should provide certainty and adequate protection for journalists and their sources.

Academic Freedom

In his paper ‘The Peter Ridd case- a pyrrhic victory for James Cook University’, Chris Merritt writes “Academic freedom is a category of freedom of speech where the public interest in protecting this right predominates.. it outweighs any assertion that people need to be protected from the risk of professional embarrassment where shoddy work is exposed…

According to Mill’s great essay, On Liberty, whilst a prohibition upon disrespectful and discourteous conduct in intellectual expression might be a “convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world”, the “price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.”..

Ridd lost his personal battle. But he secured a unanimous ruling from the High Court that provides a foundation for the future defences of academic freedom. The court recognises that this doctrine has an instrumental as well as an ethical justification.  It aids the search for truth in the contested marketplace for ideas. It also ensures the primacy of individual conviction- the right not to profess what one believes to be false whilst bestowing a duty to speak out for what one believes.””


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Resource on Free Speech

  • RoLIA Submission on Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013, submission
  • Limits to freedom of political communication in Australia, essay
  • Free speech, rule of law and political debate in Australia, research guide
  • Peter Ridd’s case- a pyrrhic victory for James Cook University, paper
  • Robin Speeds Paper from 2011 on the history of Freedom of the Media in Australia and challenges in 2011