Handyside v UK [1976] 12 WLUK 53 ECHR

TV camera, Criticism and Review


Handyside v UK [1976] is a landmark case concerning freedom of expression.



Media Law – Human rights – Book – Obscenity – Article 10 – Freedom of expression – European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) – Convention – No violation


In Handyside v UK [1976], the applicant book publisher, Mr Handyside, published a book called “The Little Red Schoolbook”. The book was intended for children ages 12 and above. The book’s chapter concerning pupils contained information about sexual subjects, such as pornography, abortion and masturbation, and illegal drug use.

The British authorities seized and destroyed the copies of the book. The applicant brought a complaint before the ECtHR. He alleged a violation of his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention and right to peaceful enjoyment of his property under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention.


Whether the UK government’s action violated Article 10 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention?


The ECtHR ruled against Mr Handyside (the applicant) and found no violation of Article 10 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention.

Alleged violation of Article 10

In particular, the Court considered whether the materials in the book were obscene. If so, whether the publication of book was justified as being for the public good.

To determine the obscenity of the materials, the ECtHR considered whether the material had a “tendency to deprave and corrupt”. The Court concluded that “The Little Red Schoolbook” was obscene. Moreover, the Court noted that the book may encouage potentially illegal activities, including underage sex and drug usage.

However, even though the Court considered the book obscene, it would allow publication of the book if it was for the “public good.” Although, it was found that the applicant could not prove that the publication of the book was for the “public good”.

Finally, the Court noted that freedom of expression “constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a [democratic] society” and is “one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man.” However, the ECtHR ruled the applicant in exercising his freedom of expression, did not undertake the “duties and responsibilities” attached to freedom of expression in a democratic society.

Alleged violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1

As regards a violation of a right to peaceful enjoyment of property, the ECtHR held that seizure and destruction of the applicant’s property were justified since the books were lawfully deemed to be “illicit and dangerous to the general interest.”


See the full text of the judgment here.

References: [1976] 12 WLUK 53; (1979-80) 1 E.H.R.R. 737.

See our study materials on Media Law and prepare like a pro for your assessments!