Duncan Lewis

Romford Office

Crime and Civil cases

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MP’s from all spectrum call for scrapping of section 5 of Public Order Act claiming it was threat to freedom of speech

Date: (17 May 2012)    |    

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A powerful lobby of MPs, cutting across their party line has called for scrapping of section 5 of Public Order Act warning that it represented a threat to freedom of speech.
Campaigners say the law is being abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors to arrest Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights advocates and even students making jokes.
Human rights campaigners, MPs, faith groups and secular organisations yesterday joined forces in Westminster to call for the words ‘insulting words or behaviour’ phrase removed from the legislation.
Senior Tory MP Edward Leigh warned that Section 5 of the 1986 act was having a ‘chilling effect’ on religious groups.
Mr Leigh told a public meeting at the House of Commons that great thing about the British way of life was robust faith and undoubtedly there has been a chilling effect on robust faith.
Last October, the Government launched a consultation on the Public Order Act, including whether the word ‘insulting’ in section 5 strikes a good balance between freedom of expression and the right not to be harassed, alarmed or distressed.
The consultation closed four months ago, but the Government has yet to set out its views.
Mr Leigh said that a vote will take place after the consultation is over. He said that they had a firm promise from Government that it would bring this back before the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity.
A poll by ComRes, commissioned by campaigners, shows that 62 per cent of MPs believe it should not be the business of government to outlaw ‘insults’. Only 17 per cent of MPs believe that removing the contentious ‘insult’ clause would undermine the ability of the police to protect the public
Senior Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, chair of the influential Liberal Democrat Home Affairs committee, yesterday also gave his full support to the campaign. It has also secured a rare alliance of secularist and Christian groups.
The Act has resulted in a string of controversial arrests. 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 realize your horse is gay?’
Thames Valley Police justified the arrest on the grounds that the student had made ‘homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by’.