Handyside v United Kingdom [1976] ECHR 5, (1976) 1 EHRR 737 at 751

Key points

  • The requirement of necessity in proportionality under the ECHR does not equate to the indispensability of the measure, nor that it is merely reasonable
  • This was one of the first freedom of expression cases considered by the ECHR and has set the standard for cases


  • Applicant, Richard Handyside, was charged and convicted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 due to his published book having contained sections educating teenagers on sex
  • Applicant argued that the 1959 Act breached his respective Article 10 right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights

Held (European Court of Human Rights)

  • Appeal dismissed; no breach of Article 10 had been established


  • “…whilst the adjective ‘necessary’, within the meaning of Article 10(2), is not synonymous with ‘indispensable’, neither has it the flexibility of such expressions as ‘admissible’, ‘ordinary’, ‘useful’, ‘reasonable’, or ‘desirable’.” : [48]
  • “The domestic ‘margin of appreciation’ went hand in hand with a ‘European supervision’.…Freedom of expression constituted one of the essential foundations of a ‘democratic society. Subject to Article 10 (2), it applied to information which caused offence or shock. Any restriction of freedom of expression had to be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”:  [49]