Photo credit: http://www.secularism.org.uk/blog/2012/05/a-message-from-simon-calvert-of-the-christian-institute-and-keith-porteous-wood-of-the-national-secular-society
Photographer: Rakshita Patel
You will recall that on Monday 10 December 2012 the Reform Section 5 Campaign staged a protest. Peter Tatchell (dressed as a police officer), a student, and a pantomine horse gathered outside the Home Office HQ at 2 Marsham Street, London to highlight the case of an Oxford student who was arrested in 2005 under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for joking that a police officer's horse was gay.
This is the video of our protest (featuring my purple woolly hat and my hand - FINALLY my 5 seconds of celebrity!):Why did we do this?
Cut and pasted from the Peter Tatchell Foundation Website:
The Reform Section 5 Campaign was about ending the criminalisation of mere insults.
“The insults clause of Section 5 menaces free speech. It has been misused too many times to suppress freedom of expression. Reform of the law is supported by the present and previous Director of Public Prosecutions, the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Liberty, Justice and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as the Reform Section 5 campaign. The Association of Chief Police Officers has no objection to reform,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which is backing the repeal of the insults clause.
“The criminalisation of insults is far too subjective and constitutes a dangerously low prosecution threshold. Anyone who values free speech and robust debate should welcome its removal from Section 5.
“The Section 5 ban on insults has been abused to variously arrest people protesting peacefully against abortion and campaigning for gay equality and animal welfare. Other victims include Christian street preachers and critics of Scientology.
“Freedom of expression is one of the most important of all human rights. It should be only restricted in extreme circumstances. The open exchange of ideas - including unpalatable, even offensive ones - is the hallmark of a free and democratic society,” he said.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 criminalises “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour... within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
“There is no requirement to prove that anyone has been harassed, alarmed or distressed. The mere likelihood is sufficient to secure a conviction. Moreover, an offence is committed regardless of the offender’s intention. Innocently intended words can result in a criminal record. The police and the courts can decide if a person might feel insulted. This is a threat to free speech.
“What constitutes a criminal insult is completely elastic and subjective, which is why people have been arrested for criticising homosexuality and Islamist extremists.
"This legislation has been on the statue books 26 years. It was initially introduced to tackle football hooliganism and public disorder. The legislation is now being misused to criminalise people for trivial comments, including those who were simply expressing their views or beliefs.
“The Reform Section 5 campaign includes all shades of opinion, from the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society, Freedom Association, Big Brother Watch and the Peter Tatchell Foundation. On this issue, we’ve sunk our differences and are working together to defend free speech and the right to protest," said Mr Tatchell.UPDATE
On Monday 14 January the Home Secretary, Theresa May, told the House of Commons that the Government would accept the Lords amendment to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.
Theresa May told the House that the Government respected the view of the House of Lords and said comments by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, meant the Government was “not minded to challenge the amendment” made in the Lords.
She said: “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.”
This vital free speech reform will not come into effect for a period of months as the Crime and Courts Bill must complete its passage through Parliament.This represents a victory for free speech in the United Kingdom.
You can see and read the coverage of the Reform Section 5 Campaign Victory here:http://reformsection5.org.uk/2013/01/coverage-of-victory-to-reform-section-5/
You can read all about the Reform Section 5 Campaign on its website here:http://reformsection5.org.uk/Congratulations to the Reform Section 5 Campaign, Peter Tatchell and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, the National Secular Society, and the Christian Institute for WINNING the argument and securing the Reform of Section 5 - Very well done!