A win for free speech in the UK

January 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Home secretary Theresa May said the Government will accept a House of Lords amendment to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Excellent. It should not be a crime to be insulting.

The amendment had been promoted in the House of Lords by Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary.

Six years ago police tried to prosecute Oxford student Sam Brown after he said to a mounted officer: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?”

Mr Brown, who made the comment during a night out with friends in Oxford after his final exams, was arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act for making homophobic remarks.

The horse should have been forced to testify on whether he felt victimised.

The following year Kyle Little, a 16-year-old from Newcastle, was fined £50 with £150 costs for saying “woof” to a Labrador dog in front of police officers.

If a bad law is there, the Police will often use it. We should get rid of blasphemous libel, for example, as a crime. That at least needs the AG’s permission for a prosecution.

The amendment had been pushed for by comedian Rowan Atkinson who had warned that criticism, unfavourable comparison or “merely stating an alternative point of view” could be interpreted as an insult and lead to arrest.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last month, Lord Dear, said that the law had “no place in our country” because the law was being “used to undermine because of the way it is framed”.

Last month House of Lords vote saw peers vote overwhelmingly by 150 to 54 in favour of the change. Campaigners welcomed the change. Simon Calvert, Reform Section 5 campaign director, said he was “very pleased” by the Government’s statement.

He said: “This is a victory for free speech. People of all shades of opinion have suffered at the hands of Section 5.

A victory for comedians and free speech.

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16 Responses to “A win for free speech in the UK”

  1. wreck1080 (3,730 comments) says:

    The UK authorities are notorious for using laws in ways that were not intended.

    eg, during the icelandic banking crisis the UK invoked anti-terrorism laws against icelandic banks and govt. There was no terrorism but the UK thought they’d have a go.

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  2. Graeme Edgeler (3,267 comments) says:

    You realise the law is basically identical in New Zealand, right?

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  3. metcalph (1,362 comments) says:

    eg, during the icelandic banking crisis the UK invoked anti-terrorism laws against icelandic banks and govt. There was no terrorism but the UK thought they’d have a go

    The specific provisions invoked were not restricted for use for only combatting Terrorism. It was included in the legislation as a good power to have in general. There is a criticism that can be made about the legislative process but using anti-terrorism laws against Iceland isn’t it.

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  4. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    What does a gay horse eat?

    [gay voice]
    HAY!!!

    Edit – beauty, the edit function is back!

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  5. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    The Iceland meltdown (I guess it’s just “land” now??) is quickly becoming the 9/11 of finance in that there’s a ton of BS floating around about it that a surprising number of people are being fooled by.

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  6. Archer (170 comments) says:

    A good lesson here about laws being made but the Police/enforcement agency enforcing it in a way that is not necessarily compatible with the intent of the lawmakers. Fault lies with the lawmakers in my opinion, who have a lot of responsiblity to make sure they get it right the first time.

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  7. wreck1080 (3,730 comments) says:

    Well, it was simply reported that the UK used anti-terrorism laws against iceland.

    If the provisions were not anti-terrorism, then they should not have been called so.

    Otherwise, how is a non-lawyer supposed to understand this?

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  8. Left Right and Centre (2,819 comments) says:

    How bloody ridiculous… saying ‘woof’ to a dog and getting fined? How totally and utterly pathetic and petty. Idiotic law and pricks charging someone for saying woof… shocker.

    I’m sure it’s an offence in NZ to swear at someone. If I told someone to fuck off.. what’s the charge? Disorderly behaviour?

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  9. Graeme Edgeler (3,267 comments) says:

    Left Right and Centre – offensive language, which is part of section 4 of the Summary Offences Act 1981.

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  10. AG (1,778 comments) says:

    @DPF:

    Excellent. It should not be a crime to be insulting.

    Might want to check out the NZ Summary Offences Act 1981, then:

    4. (1) Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 who,—

    (b) in any public place, addresses any words to any person intending to threaten, alarm, insult, or offend that person; or
    (c) in or within hearing of a public place,—
    (i) uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words…

    @Graeme

    Or s4(2): “Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who, in or within hearing of any public place, uses any indecent or obscene words.”

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  11. Rex Widerstrom (5,261 comments) says:

    Archer says:

    A good lesson here about laws being made but the Police/enforcement agency enforcing it in a way that is not necessarily compatible with the intent of the lawmakers.

    As is the case with the selective application of a good many laws.

    Fault lies with the lawmakers in my opinion, who have a lot of responsiblity to make sure they get it right the first time.

    I’m always ready to point the finger at our politicians, and there are certainly laws that could have been better worded, and more carefully considered, before being rushed through Parliament. But they don’t bear the majority of the blame for over-policing.

    Because it’s impossible to allow for every single variable of interaction between people, the police have to be given discretion. I doubt any politician thought that saying “woof” to a police dog should result in arrest, but is it reasonable to expect them to foresee that and… what? Draft a clause specifically permitting woofing?

    I see multiple instances of over-charging in the courts every week, caused by exactly this sort of thing – someone deciding to be a dickhead, but a harmless one, and a police officer (usually a fairly young one) deciding to treat it as a crime and bending a bit of some statute to fit. Even that is understandable (and perhaps even forgiveable, especially if that’s the tenth dickhead they’ve encountered that day) but what’s inexcusable is that senior officers don’t intervene to see that the charge is dropped and the young officer reminded that sticks and stones…

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  12. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    AG, those laws need to go.

    s4(b) does say “intending”, but it is still bad law.

    There is no such thing as “Offensive” language. Being “offended” is a subjective description of one persons feelings, not of another persons actions, words, or behaviour.

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  13. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    If I told someone to fuck off.. what’s the charge? Disorderly behaviour?

    Disorderly Behaviour is what the cops use when they have nothing. If you did do something, the charge would be more specific. It is another “offence” that needs to go, along with rather a lot else.

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  14. Pete George (22,839 comments) says:

    AG – could social media be deemed ‘a public place’?

    The implication (and one reference) in the act you quote is audible words but it doesn’t exclude typed words as could be used:

    addresses any words to any person intending to threaten, alarm, insult, or offend that person; or
    uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words…

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,261 comments) says:

    @Pete George:

    “Public place” is defined in the act as “a place that, at any material time, is open to or is being used by the public, whether free or on payment of a charge, and whether any owner or occupier of the place is lawfully entitled to exclude or eject any person from that place; and includes any aircraft, hovercraft, ship or ferry or other vessel, train, or vehicle carrying or available to carry passengers for reward”.

    So the examples it gives are all physical locations, but there’d no doubt be days of fascinating legal argument about the meaning of “used” and “place” and “owner”.

    If it ever a court decided a “place” included a virtual space, I wonder what odds iPredict would give on certain KB commenters being the first to be clapped in irons? :-D

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  16. Bob R (1,336 comments) says:

    A small victory against the totalitarian politically correct regime.

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