Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed


by Robert Sharp    
3:48 pm - December 11th 2012

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The Reform Section 5 Campaign (demo with Peter Tatchell pictured above) received a significant boost yesterday, when the Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer QC said that he was satisfied that “the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions”.

At present, Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 lists “insulting words or behaviour” as grounds for arrest and prosecution.  This has led to a number of arrests with worrying implications for free speech.  Atheists have been questioned by police for insulting religion, while the religious have been arrested for insulting gay people.  Famously, student Sam Brown was arrested for calling a horse “gay”.

The Reform Section 5 Campaign represents a broad coalition opposed to the wording in the law.  Its supporters include politicians from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens.  It is run jointly by the National Secular Society and the Christian Institute.

Tomorrow, members of the House of Lords will vote on removing the words “insulting” from the law.  Lord Dear (the former Chief Constable of the West Midlands) has tabled an ammendment to the Crime & Courts Bill

The Reform Section 5 Campaign are urging campaigners to contact members of the House of Lords, urging them to back the ammendment.  They have written a handy briefing laying out the case for reform [PDF].

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An aside: It is noteworthy that this campaign seems to be finding success in the House of Lords, not the Commons.   Through my work with English PEN I’ve been involved in a few free expression campaigns (on criminal memoirs, libel reform, and the abolition of seditious libel) where the crucial debates and ammendments have all happened in the unelected chamber!  Is this because un-elected peers have a greater appreciation for core democratic rights? Or that they have more time and opportunity to scrutinise and ammend legislation?  For the avoidance of doubt, I do not see this an argument against Lords reform.  Instead, perhaps House of Commons procedures and conventions could be tweaked to allow for more of this sort of work by the elected parliamentarians?

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Story Filed Under: Civil liberties ,News

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Reader comments


Good news.

Peter Tatchell is becoming an increasingly impressive libertarian campaigner.

He’s too grown up to be libertarian.

I wonder if tatchell will apolgise to Robert mugabe now,after he didn’t like mugabe Expressing his views in the past.

It’s a good first step to be applauded. Until the infamous Section 127 is reformed then it’s only one half of the battle.

Experience of following the Welfare Reform Bill through it long and winding path says the same – the Lords were the one’s who took the time to thoroughly analyise, discuss and look at implications. I was thoroughly impressed with their hard work, intelligence, vast expertise and, importantly, their maturity – born of real life experience. It could not have been more different than the farcical bun-fight which regularly occurs in the Commons.

I do not entirely understand Lord Reform, but all I would say is, if we did not have a House of Lords we’d be in big big trouble.

I wonder if tatchell will apolgise to Robert mugabe now,after he didn’t like mugabe Expressing his views in the past.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur

Excellent.

Shamefully I missed the “arrested for saying woof to a dog” charge.

Has anyone said boo to any geese recently?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of 'insult' law http://t.co/8m6cAsZv

  2. Paul Lynch

    DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of 'insult' law http://t.co/8m6cAsZv

  3. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of ‘insult’ law http://t.co/GZNpWBzq

  4. Jason Brickley

    DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of ‘insult’ law http://t.co/HRcfflwf

  5. Paul W

    DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of 'insult' law http://t.co/8m6cAsZv

  6. A Person

    DPP backs reform of ‘insult’ law http://t.co/AICHGCSF – good. So no reason that the law can not be modified

  7. Sunny Hundal

    Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/MPFZUfS0

  8. Dave

    Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/MPFZUfS0

  9. Cathelijne Bouwkamp

    RT “@sunny_hundal: Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/6TnhDlc4”

  10. Jonathan Heawood

    ABOUT TIME! Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed http://t.co/F07YDZbq via @libcon

  11. Roberta Wedge

    Gay horses for #EqualMarriage RT @sunny_hundal: Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/jkGdn5lx

  12. fauxpaschick

    Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/MPFZUfS0

  13. Rib van Rey

    RT @sunny_hundal: Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed. Great campaigning! http://t.co/Z570TaCg

  14. English PEN

    RT @libcon: DPP Kier Starmer backs reform of 'insult' law http://t.co/VjQbjlOV <- Lords vote on this today.

  15. Matt Woodhouse

    Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/5nhUbhLq via @libcon
    about bloody time!
    #freespeech

  16. Mr Rhinoceros

    Law on ‘insulting words or behaviour’ to be changed | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4QKwGdun via @libcon





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