The removal of ‘insulting’ from Public Order Act is a victory for free speech


Steve Hynd is a writer and blogger

MPs have confirmed that the word ‘insulting’ will be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

RowanThis is a major victory for an unlikely alliance of free speech campaigners including The Christian InstituteThe National Secular Society and Rowan Atkinson.

Last month the home secretary Theresa May announced that the government was ‘not minded to challenge a House of Lords amendment removing the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

In the past Section 5 had been used against street preachers ‘insulting’ homosexuals and LGBT activists ‘insulting’ religious groups.

As Rowan Atkinson commented, “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult”

This change in law is a victory for freedom of speech in the UK.

There remains, however, an important limiting role for the law to play. That role is to provide protection to those who are victims of threatening or abusive behaviour.

In 2011 I blogged saying that, “We all hold the right to live without fear or intimidation. This has to be legally separated, however, from being ‘insulted”.

The distinction has finally been acknowledged by the government and the change in the law later in the year is now just a formality.

It is worth noting, though, that even with this change in law, the discussion about what constitutes threatening behaviour compared to ‘insulting’ behaviour will remain. There is a considerable grey area around what the law should interpret to be ‘threatening’ and what it should view as merely ‘insulting’.

For example, ‘My Tram Experience’ – a video showing a vile torrent of racist abuse on a south London tram – sparked two very different interpretations.

thought her behaviour was threatening and therefore called for her arrest, while blogger Sunny Hundal argued that she was simply being insulting.

With the change in law however, the police are some way towards having a clear distinction to follow. We are no longer asking them to be the judge of what behaviour is deemed ‘insulting’, at least.

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  • Simon Whitten

    It’s good news. Hopefully reform of Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 will follow. This is the law that enables all the Twitter and Facebook prosecutions for language which is deemed merely offensive and not even necessarily “insulting” as is necessary with Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

  • Mick

    Well it had to come. An honest Joe like me finding SOMETHING on the Left to agree with. And an issue of common sense too – double bubble. Enjoy this brief flirtation with normality while it lasts, Labour people. It may be years ’til the next time.

    Maybe also we can now be spared the spectacle of the most ‘offended’ persons of all being tip-toed around for diversity. Eh, LABOUR:

    http://www.debatepolitics.com/europe/76381-swim-dark-else-ruin-community-cohesion-imbecilic-left-strike-again.html

    http://www.debatepolitics.com/europe/89715-muslim-served-non-halal-food-mcdonalds-and-becomes-mentally-disturbed-2.html#post1059211666

    http://www.debatepolitics.com/europe/66007-jack-straw-wont-risk-muslim-wrath-ii.html

    http://www.examiner.com/article/british-schools-drop-holocaust-from-history-lessons-so-as-not-to-offend-muslims

    http://www.debatepolitics.com/europe/88821-patriot-jailed-flying-england-flag-its-religious-symbol-muslims.html

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/08/uk-fathers-banned-from-play-centre-to-avoid-offending-muslims.html

    Etc, etc, etc. Even STEPHEN FRY complained about sops to Islam! Especially with up to 62% of Muslims here wanting Sharia Law. And we all know the hell that leads to.

    Though Europe will still be wary of ‘offending’ them:
    http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2012/11/brussels-bans-annual-christmas-tree-it-may-offend-muslims/

  • treborc

    Did they ask 100% of Mulisms about whether they want Sharia law or was it 62% of a 100 as most of these silly votes come from

  • Eamonn Evans

    The freedom of speech is not an unlimited right – but the freedom to express an opinion is. They are 2 different things. The law should only intervene if an opinion includes a threat of violence or is expressed in a situation where a person has a genuine fear for their personal safety.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, it leads to you advocating inequality under the law. Just as you have once again attacked “Labour people” there. Your disdain for anyone not according to your rigid standards of acceptability…

  • Newsbot9

    I disagree, when people are repeated and persistently preaching hatred, regardless of technicalities over their wording being “violence” or not…

  • Mick

    In polls conducted by the likes of ICM, 22% of ‘British’ Muslims backed the 7/7 bombers too, with other findings telling us over 10% of them thought terror campaigns totally legitimate. These figures are way too disproportionately high. Findings from everywhere can be found online, take or leave them.

    And Pew polls found a whopping 75% of Muslims across the Islamic World favoured DEATH for ‘apostasy’ and other honour crimes. And atop that foul brew, even the ‘peaceniks’ of the Arab Spring turned out to be frauds because only brought in the likes of Morsi in Egypt, and other madder Islamists.

    And the body counts just these few years have been breathtaking, and all to the cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’

    It just goes back and back and you could write a whole Internet on how the shadiness of Islam goes right back to Muhammad. So whenever I hear ‘offended’ Muslims in even mainstream places like the MCB whine about ‘blasphemy’ and ‘british foreign policy’ and ‘Israeli baby killers’ , I know full well they tend to complain, actually, about valid criticism.

    Time for them to be ignored.

  • Mick

    This? After spending time in threads like the Obama State of the Union or Mansion tax, telling me I spat on the workers or that you wouldn’t waste time telling me how a Mutualist nation would operate?

    Rigid standards of acceptability little Newsbot….?

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, you’re up to the same tricks again. This isn’t a surprise, your standards of exclusion remain the same. Keep attacking mindlessly!

  • Mick

    Not that I should be feeding on your spam, but I can tell the ladies and gentlemen that Spambot here is one of the mutualists, who exclude people wanting loans and landlords. Money for them isn’t ‘earned’, and so are pariah’d.

    So far from attacks, we need defending from people I mention!

    OK Botty, back to you…

  • Newsbot9

    Nope, you’re completely wrong as usual. Thanks for that though.

    And of course you feel that you need defending from workers.

  • Newsbot9

    Of course you want everyone to ignore your friends.

  • Mick

    ‘Spraying spam’! That creative cliche made my night.

    And if I’m wrong, you make no effort to put me right. You couldn’t. Mutualists want that, as I found in research. And they want a ‘self-sufficiency’ of workers, though nobody’s allowed any profits in business. It has to be a barter society, thus trapping everybody at their own lowly levels.

    No spirit of enterpise = becoming like Newsbot. and he never explains himself, just smears people.

  • Mick

    Oh Newsbot! Your exclusive brand of insanity may be endearing to some people.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, the truth is, keep calling it insane.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, I’m sure you imagination is only up to that.

    Certainly your unimaginative slurs against mutualism show that you’re a bog standard – which explains you constant smear references – far right raving spammer/troll.

    You’re the one fighting enterprise, which might let a 99%er rise above their status and challenge you.

  • Mick

    Jihad on the poor! :D

    Any more of those? They could go in a slot machine.

  • Mick

    Being called extremist by an anarchist. Let the world see Newsbot!

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, keep fighting a fact because of your bigotry.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, I’m sure they could in your world. How else will you create instant instructional manuals for your minions of doooom!?

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