AIRDRIE Sheriff Court rarely finds itself at the centre of global controversies, but then the Mark Meechan case is extraordinary in a number of ways.

Meechan trained his partner’s pug to respond to statements such as “sieg heil” and “gas the Jews” by lifting its paw in what looks like a Nazi salute. He posted the video online and eventually it was watched by millions of people around the world.

The 30-year-old from Coatbridge probably didn’t know it at the time, but he had set the stage for one of the most interesting freedom of speech debates of modern times, asking fundamental questions about which is more important - the right to offend or the right not be offended.

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Yesterday, Meechan was fined £800 after being found guilty of posting grossly offensive, anti-Semitic and racist material in breach of the Communications Act, after a judge had previously rejected his defence that the footage was a joke aimed at annoying his partner.

Many Jewish groups in Scotland and beyond were with Scottish prosecutors in failing to see the joke, accusing the video’s creator of perpetrating a hate crime. Others, however, including comedians such as Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel - who is himself Jewish – came out in support of Meechan’s right to make the “joke”, regardless of how distasteful or even offensive it may be.Waters were muddied even further when a litany of right-wing figures, including US alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, used the case to highlight wider issues around free speech. Due to the constitutional right to free speech, such a case would never reach an American court.

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So, what are we to make of this ruling here? It will be interesting to see whether this case sets a precedent. If it does, genuine concerns around free speech will continue to be raised. At the same time, telling the difference between hate speech and humour becomes more difficult in a digital age where people are more willing to both offend and be offended. In such a climate it’s hard to see how a balance could ever be struck.