Wingrove v. UK
Application no. 17419/90
RJD 1996-V; 24 EHRR
Wingrove is a British filmmaker who had directed ‘Visions of Ecstasy’ which involved erotic scenes between Jesus and St Theresa d’Avila. The British Boad of Film Classification had rejected the film for classification referring to the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964 and the criminal law of blasphemy, the definition of which was given in a test case to the House of Lords (R.v.Lemon, 1979) ‘any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible … It is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian religion’ if the publication is ‘decent and temperate’. The question is not one of the matter expressed, but of its manner, i.e. `the tone, style and spirit’, in which it is presented. The court’s response to the issue of blasphemy was that it recognised ‘that the offence of blasphemy cannot by its very nature lend itself to precise legal definition. National authorities must therefore be afforded a degree of flexibility in assessing whether the facts of a particular case fall within the accepted definition of the offence’§42.
The case was heard under the European Convention’s Article 10 of Freedom of Expression (Article 10):
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…
As with Article 9, the court observed that freedom of expression incorporates duties as well as responsibilities which, ‘in the context of religious belief, may legitimately be included a duty to avoid as far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration, gratuitously offensive to others and profanatory.’
The Court held by seven votes to two that there had been no breach of Article 10 of the Convention.