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

The decision by the House of Lords to pass an amendment removing the word 'insulting' from Section 5 of the Public Order Act is a victory for free speech and should be welcomed.

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.

This 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.

20 Responses to “The removal of ‘insulting’ from Public Order Act is a victory for free speech”

  1. Newsbot9

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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….?

  4. 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!

  5. 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…

Comments are closed.