Free speech ‘strangled by law that bans insults’ and is abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors

Daily Mail:

  • Campaigners say Public Order Act is unclear and has resulted in string of controversial arrests
  • Groups join forces to have ‘insulting words or behaviour’ phrase removed from legislation
  • Former shadow home secretary David Davis: ‘Nobody likes to be insulted, but nor does anyone have a right not to be insulted’

By James Chapman

PUBLISHED: 22:37 GMT, 15 May 2012 | UPDATED: 09:00 GMT, 16 May 2012

Reform: Campaign groups have urged Home Secretary Theresa May to modify the controversial Public Order ActReform: Campaign groups have urged Home Secretary Theresa May to modify the controversial Public Order Act

Theresa May is being urged to reform a controversial law which bans ‘insulting words or behaviour’ amid mounting evidence that it is strangling free speech.

Campaigners say the Public Order Act is being abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors to arrest Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights campaigners and even students making jokes.

Currently, Section 5 of the 1986 Act outlaws ‘insulting words or behaviour’, but what constitutes ‘insulting’ is unclear and has resulted in a string of controversial arrests.

Human rights campaigners, MPs, faith groups and secular organisations have joined forces to have the ‘insulting words or behaviour’ phrase removed from the legislation, arguing that it restricts freedom of speech and penalises campaigners, protesters and even preachers.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis, a leading campaigner for civil liberties, said reform was ‘vital to protecting freedom of expression in Britain today’.

‘There is a growing list of examples where the law against using “insulting” language has led to heavy-handed action by police and prosecutors. It is not only distressing for the individuals concerned, it constitutes a threat to Britain’s tradition of free speech,’ he said.

‘Of course nobody likes to be insulted, particularly in public, but nor does anyone have a right not to be insulted. Freedom of speech includes the right to criticise, to ridicule and to offend. It is not the job of the police and the courts to prevent us from having our feelings hurt.

‘The solution is simple: The law needs to change. The word “insulting” should be removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act. This would provide proportionate protection to individuals’ right to free speech, while continuing to protect people from threatening or abusive speech.’

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About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

4 Replies to “Free speech ‘strangled by law that bans insults’ and is abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors”

  1. “The word “insulting” should be removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act”

    What kind of creature put it there in the first place? You can only be insulted by the truth.

  2. Brian: “How can you go around defaming someones character!”
    Stewie: “It applies to those ‘personally insulted’, Brian, those who claim to be ‘personally insulted’… those overcome by the world… Look THE STuPid iNVERTS stupid!

  3. I have observed that Theresa May talks about doing things when there is a public outcry, but then nothing happens. Kind of like Obama.

  4. All hate speech laws strangle free speech, that is their purpose. They are attempts by the left to social engineer our society by preventing any speech the left or a protected minority dislikes.

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