Court ruling restricts ‘unfettered’ freedom of speech on social media

By Steven Raeburn | N/A

August 13, 2013 | 3 min read

The Australian Federal circuit court has issued a decision in a employment case with far reaching consequences for the right of freedom of expression on social media.Judge Warwick Neville ruled that found Australians had no ''unfettered implied right (or freedom) of political expression''.His High Court had found that citizens' implied rights of political expression were limited.''Further, even if there be a constitutional right of the kind for which [the claimant] contends, it does not provide a licence ... to breach a contract of employment,'' the judge said.Michaela Banerji worked for the Immigration Department communications team, who had raised an action after being disciplined over comments she had made via Twitter.The ruling has the potential to restrict public servants’ use of social media.Benerji had been sacked, and the court had been discussing her application for an injunction on that decision. The court had discussed whether the constitution protected public servants' freedom of speech. Banerji tweets as @LaLegale, and has been offered legal assistance via Twitter to appeal the decision. The account had been accused of tweets that were critical of the government, the minister, the immigration portfolio and communications director Sandi Logan'.The Australian Public Service code of conduct required public servants to avoid ''harsh or extreme'' criticisms of politicians or their policies. Banerji had argued that her tweets were “expressions of political opinion, to which all Australian citizens have a constitutionally implied right''.

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