The ‘Naked Rambler’ issued proceedings concerning his arrests, prosecutions, convictions and sentences of imprisonment, invoking, in particular, articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Gough v United Kingdom (App. No. 49327/11): European Court of Human Rights: 28 October 2014

Freedom of expression – Restriction on freedom of expression – Applicant expressing belief in inoffensiveness of human body by being naked in public – Applicant being subject to arrests, prosecutions, convictions and sentences of imprisonment for breach of peace and contempt of court

The applicant adhered to a firmly held belief in the inoffensiveness of the human body. That had, in turn, given rise to a belief in social nudity, which he expressed by being naked in public. In 2003, he decided to walk naked from Land’s End in England to John O’Groats in Scotland, in the course of which he was subject to arrests, prosecutions, convictions and sentences of imprisonment.

The applicant issued proceedings, complaining about his repeated arrest, prosecution, conviction and imprisonment for nearly seven years for being naked in public. He complained to the European Court of Human Rights, invoking, inter alia, articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). In particular, he complained about his June 2009 and July 2011 arrests and convictions by Scottish public authorities for breach of the peace and contempt of court.

The issues for determination included whether the UK had breached articles 8 and 10 of the Convention.

The application would be dismissed.

(1) The applicant had chosen to be naked in public in order to give expression to his opinion as to the inoffensive nature of the human body. His public nudity could be seen as a form of expression, which fell within the ambit of article 10 of the Convention and his arrest, prosecution, conviction and detention had constituted repressive measures taken in reaction to that form of expression of his opinions by the applicant. Therefore, there had been an interference with his exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

However, having regard to the relevant considerations and to the wide margin of appreciation, the reasons for the measures adopted by the police, the prosecuting authorities and the courts and, in particular, those adopted in respect of the applicant’s arrest in 2011, had been relevant and sufficient, and the measures had met a pressing social need in response to repeated anti-social conduct by the applicant.

It could not be said that the repressive measures that had been taken in reaction to the particular, repeated form of expression that had been chosen by the applicant to communicate his opinion on nudity had been, even if considered cumulatively, disproportionate to the legitimate aim being pursued, namely, the prevention of disorder and crime. Even though, cumulatively, the penalties imposed on the applicant had undoubtedly entailed serious consequences for him, having regard, in particular, to his own responsibility for his plight, the public authorities in Scotland had not unjustifiably interfered with his exercise of freedom of expression.

Accordingly, no violation of article 10 of the Convention had been established (see [150], [176] of the judgment).

(2) Whether the requisite level of seriousness had been reached, in relation to the applicant’s choice to appear fully naked on all occasions in all public places without distinction, to be protected by article 8 of the Convention might be doubted, having regard to the absence of support for such a choice in any known democratic society in the world.

However, in any event, even if article 8 of the Convention was to be taken to be applicable to the circumstances of the present case, those circumstances were not such as to disclose a violation of that provision on the part of the public authorities in Scotland. In short, any interference with the applicant’s right to respect for his private life had been justified, under article 8(2) of the Convention, for essentially the same reasons as given in the context of the applicant’s complaint under article 10 of the Convention (see [184] of the judgment).