An official consultation on public order powers has just been launched.
The home secretary, Theresa May, is seeking curfew powers for the police to create no-go areas during riots. The powers are expected to include immediate
curfews over large areas to tackle the kind of fast-moving disturbances that swept across many of England's major cities in August. May also wants to extend existing powers to impose curfews on individuals and stronger police powers to order protesters
and rioters to remove face masks.
On a more positive note, the consultation will look at repealing section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which outlaws insulting words or behaviour . There are claims the provision hampers free speech and
it has been the subject of a strong Liberal Democrat campaign.
Parliament's joint human rights committee has called for the removal of the word insulting to raise the threshold of the offence, citing a case in which a teenager was arrested
for calling Scientology a cult. Evangelical Christians have complained about the use of section 5 to fine street preachers who proclaim that homosexuality is sinful or immoral.
Those supporting the reform say it would still cover threatening,
abusive or disorderly behavour.
The consultation closes on 13 January 2012.
Update: So What
About Section 4?
22nd October 2011. Based on article from secularism.org.uk
The National Secular Society, faith groups and civil liberties groups as well as the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), have long argued that the word insulting should be removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act on the grounds that
it criminalises free speech.
The NSS is also concerned about the use of insulting in Section 4A of the Public Order Act.
In March 2010, Harry Taylor was found guilty of religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or
distress after he left anti-religious cartoons and other material he had cut from newspapers and magazines in the prayer room of John Lennon airport in Liverpool. Taylor was charged under Part 4A of the Public Order Act after the material was found
by the airport chaplain, who said in court that she was insulted, offended, and alarmed by the cartoons and so called the police.
In its legislative Scrutiny of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, the Joint (Parliamentary) Human Rights
Committee recommended the amendment of the Public Order Act to remove all references to offences based on insulting words or behaviour. Their report stated: We consider that this would be a human rights enhancing measure and would remove a risk that
these provisions may be applied in a manner which is disproportionate and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, as protected by Article 10 of the [European Convention on Human Rights] and the common law.
Campaigns Manager at the National Secular Society, said: In an open and democratic society such as ours, none of us should have the legal right not to be offended.
The word insulting should be deleted because in the interests of free
speech there must be a higher threshold for criminality than insult . The law needs an urgent re-examination, so we very much welcome this consultation.
Offsite Comment: The Public Order Act: More than a little
27th October 2011. See article from
libdemvoice.org by Juilan Huppert MP
What do Peter Tatchell and the Christian Institute have in common? Before you answer, this isn't some deeply unfunny jibe from a Coalition colleague, but one of many unexpected alliances which have formed to oppose Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.
This rather insidious Section criminalises all those who use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or
distress . It also applies to those who display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting .