The Memo: The middle finger and the law

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An offence maybe, but the middle finger is not a crime

Alice Gregory – 27 March 2023

Believe it or not, the Canadian courts recently dismissed a case against a man who was accused of harassment after giving his neighbour the middle finger. The accuser, Michael Naccache, called the police after his neighbour, Neall Epstein, had flipped him off and told him to “f*** off.” (Bear in mind: this was in response to Naccache calling him “crazy,” and telling him he was “f*****g dead” while holding a drill.) The police arrested Epstein for supposedly uttering death threats and Naccache claims he was a victim of criminal harassment. The case went to court in early March and was swiftly dismissed. The judge said that he couldn’t believe the case had even made it to trial and ruled that the middle finger is protected under Canadian constitution as one’s freedom of expression. So, it might not be polite, but it’s certainly not criminal.

According to the complainant’s logic, does that mean two fingers up in the UK would get double the penalty? Or worse, two separate court cases to determine the legality of not just one finger, but two? Well, two digits doesn’t add up to 999… not that calling the police would be the typical British response to the middle finger anyway. In case you’re anxious about getting yourself into legal trouble the next time you’re mildly inconvenienced in traffic, or someone skips ahead of you in a queue, you can sleep easy knowing that there are no severe consequences. Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act protects the freedom of expression in the UK, meaning you can flip as many birds as you want as long as you’re not endangering national security, anyone’s health or attacking any protected characteristics. We can’t promise there won’t be any other non-legal consequences to giving someone the middle finger, but you can rest assured knowing that even though it might land you in detention at school, you won’t end up behind bars.