From the Telegraph;
“’Insulting’ to be dropped from section 5 of Public Order Act
The use of insulting language will no longer be illegal in cases in which a specific victim cannot be identified, the home secretary, Theresa May, has said.
In a government climb down, the Public Order Act that covers speech and writing on signs and states: “A person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”, will be changed to remove the word insulting. The move follows a high-profile campaign which united Christian and secular groups and was spearheaded by the comedian Rowan Atkinson, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the former shadow home secretary David Davis.
The push to change section five of the act followed a series of headline-grabbing arrests and prosecutions ranging from an Oxford student asking a police officer “Do you realise your horse is gay?” which Thames Valley police described as homophobic and “offensive to people passing by”, to a 16 year old holding up a placard that said “Scientology is a dangerous cult”.
In December, the government suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords which voted 150 votes to 54 in favour of an amendment to remove the word “insulting”. Campaigners had complained the clause had been used by police as a “catch-all” offence to arrest people on trivial matters. It will continue to be illegal to use insulting language when an victim is clearly identifiable.
May told MPs the government was “not minded to challenge the amendment” made by the Lords even though ministers “believe that the police should be able to take action when they are sworn at, when protesters burn poppies on Armistice day and in similar scenarios”.
She added: “I respect the review taken by their lordships, they had concerns which I know are shared by some in this House that Section 5 encroaches upon freedom of expression. On the other hand the view expressed by many in the police is that Section 5 including the word ‘insulting’ is a valuable tool in helping them keep the peace and maintain public order.
“Looking at past cases the director of public prosecutions could not identify any where the behaviour leading to a conviction could not be described as abusive as well as insulting. He has stated that the word insulting could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to bring prosecutions.”
The government announcement has delighted Simon Calvert, director of the “feel free to insult me” campaign which argued the law should not be used to protect people from having their feelings hurt. “It is good news for free speech whoever you are,” he said.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “We congratulate the home secretary for removing a much-abused catch all provision where the police could charge anyone for using trivial words that irritated them.
“The police did not even need to identify the victim that allegedly had been insulted. The change is likely to prevent street evangelists preaching against homosexuality being charged.””
From The Daily Mail;
“Blackadder preserves our right to be insulting: Ministers agree to amend laws after campaign led by Rowan Atkinson
Ministers agreed to scrap a law outlawing ‘insulting words or behaviour’ last night after a campaign led by comedian Rowan Atkinson.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced a dramatic U-turn yesterday saying the government would ditch the contentious words from the Public Order Act amid fears that they are strangling free speech.
The Blackadder and Mr Bean star led a coalition of campaign groups complaining that the legislation has been abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors to arrest Christian preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights campaigners and even students making jokes.
The government caved in yesterday after suffering a humiliating defeat in the House of Lords before Christmas.
Mrs May told the Commons that the word ‘insulting’ would be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, as part of the Crime and Courts Bill.
She told MPs: ‘Looking at past cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions could not identify any where the behaviour leading to a conviction could not be described as “abusive” as well as “insulting”.
‘He has stated that the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions.
‘We will issue guidance to the police on the range of powers that remain available to them to deploy in the kind of situations I described, but the word “insulting” shall be removed from Section 5.’
The climbdown was welcomed by civil liberties campaigners.
Tory MP David Davis said: ‘I welcome this sensible decision by the Home Secretary. The only effect of this law was to chill public debate and depress freedom of speech.’
Reform Section 5 campaign director Simon Calvert said he was “very pleased” by the Government’s statement, adding: ‘This is a victory for free speech. People of all shades of opinion have suffered at the hands of Section 5.’
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘It should not be the police’s role to intervene when someone feels they have been insulted and the Home Secretary and her Coalition colleagues should be applauded for accepting this important change.’
Comedian Rowan Atkinson blamed the law, introduced in 1986, for creating an ‘outrage industry’ and a society of an ‘extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature’.
The Daily Mail has repeatedly highlighted the most egregious abuses of the old law.
A sixteen-year-old boy was arrested under the legislation for peacefully holding a placard that read ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult followers of the religious movement.
In 2005, an Oxford student was arrested for saying to a policeman: ‘Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?’.
Thames Valley Police said the arrest had taken place because he had made ‘homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by’.
Gay rights campaigners from the group Outrage! were also arrested under the Act when they protested against supporters of the Islamist fundamentalist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was calling for the killing of gays, Jews and unchaste women.
In a victory for the Mail, the Bill also contains a commitment to shake-up Britain’s lopsided extradition laws.
The legislation says there will be a so-called ‘forum bar ‘which means more suspects are likely to face trial in the UK – rather than be packed off to America.
A hearing will take place before a judge to examine the details of any offence which the Americans want to end in extradition.
If prosecution is possible in both the UK and abroad, the courts will have the power to bar prosecution overseas. This will be done of it is ‘in the interests of justice’.
Supporters believe that – if the ‘forum bar’ had already been in place – Asperger’s sufferer Gary McKinnon could have been spared his decade-long fight against extradition. He was only saved, in October last year, after the Mail’s lengthy Affront to British Justice campaign.”