Cultural, economic and socio-political factors are a selection of the areas which may be seen to influence law-making. As there are evident distinctions between life in the UK and the US, the law has developed in response to these different ways of life. As such, this dissertation aimed to examine the differing ways in which the law has been applied to human rights, with specific reference to the balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy. This includes an analysis of how the limitation of discrimination and hate speech has been approached by the two countries, critiquing the core values of democracy and considering the effects of the process. Where the rights of two or more individuals are seen to be at odds, it becomes important to question how far protection can be afforded to each person. This ‘balancing of rights’ must be validated through constant re-evaluation.
In the search for a paradigm legal society, equality and its tenets are applied through a predetermined yet flexible system of governance, but this subsequently leads enquiry into whether the UK or the US has an approach which is inherently ‘better’. Through democratic social discourse and the ‘marketplace of ideas’, it is possible for the populace to forward their opinions and further the search for an idyllic society. The US approach is evidenced in this dissertation as favouring free speech and the right to vocalise one’s opinion under the protection of the First Amendment, as showcased in the landmark case of Snyder v Phelps. In contrast, the UK’s position on freedom of expression is curtailed by a myriad of national and supranational legislation, which introduce an additional dimension for consideration.
The dissertation also examined how a loss of personal autonomy through restrictive legislation and an imposition of cultural homogeneity could contribute to dictatorial rule. Where the rights ‘afforded’ to the public become hard-line and lack flexibility, a social situation arises which is akin to walking on eggshells. Although the recognition of protected characteristics is an important democratic attribute, the protection afforded may also be considered a balancing act, where the counter interests are the conflicting rights of others. The concepts of ‘Britishness’ and what it means to be ‘American’ were also considered as influential factors on the diverse development in the area. When growing up in a certain culture, it may be more likely that the ideals and beliefs of the country are integrated into daily life. As such, conformity and uniformity are observed at a passive and unconscious level.
The importance of the United States Constitution in the context of human rights is addressed, whilst simultaneously noting its static nature, having come into force in 1789. Although a similar situation may be seen with the UK’s Magna Carta 1215, the addition of European legislation and the debate surrounding sovereignty may be seen to eclipse and build on the foundations which were laid down. The next issue that is raised concerns universal suffrage, particularly analysing the voting rights of minors and reasons underlying restrictions in this area. The practicality of changing the voting age is questioned, with special attention being given to a reduction in the age requirement or its removal entirely. This is a particularly contentious area due to the disparity in voting age and the potential for discrimination against age on a global scale.
Overall the dissertation highlights how freedom of expression interacts with other rights as an integral part of the ‘search for the truth’. Although democratic in nature and intent, the legislation that is passed by each country may be seen to contribute towards an almost paradoxical ‘democratic dictatorship’, wherein the rights afforded actually work to limit each other. Some degree of cultural homogeneity is shown to exist in both instances, and the scope for potential discrimination is revealed through voting restrictions and the right to consent. Thus, some insight is given into potential reform and the future of human rights and personal autonomy within a democratic environment from a comparative perspective.