Rakshita (Raks) Patel (rakspatel) wrote in mycroft_brolly,
Rakshita (Raks) Patel

Reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act: We won the Lords vote!

The Police Officer, the Student and the Pantomine Horse, Home Office

Photographer: Rakshita Patel

On Monday 10 December 2012, on a bitterly cold December morning, the Reform Section 5 campaign staged a protest. Peter Tatchell, dressed as a police officer, a student, and a pantomine horse (we could not get a real horse on such short notice - they were all "busy"!), gathered outside the Home Office HQ at 2 Marsham Street, London (ironically my old place of work) 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!):

Photographer: Rakshita Patel

You can view more photos from the protest here:

Why were we doing this?

Cut and pasted from the Peter Tatchell Foundation Website:

The House of Lords will today (Wednesday 12 December) debate an amendment by Lord Dear to end the criminalisation of mere insults. His amendment 119 to the Crime and Courts Bill repeals the ban on insults in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Lord Dear is the former Chief Constable of West Midlands and the former HM Inspector of Constabulary.

“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.

Simon Calvert, Reform Section 5 Campaign Director, concluded by saying:

“I don’t think any campaign has united such a diverse range of campaigners, MPs from Left and Right, faith-based groups and secularists. The support for reform is overwhelming.

“It cannot be right for the collective voices of so many to be ignored and we challenge the Government to back Lord Dear’s amendment in the House of Lords today.”

You can read the full story here:

The Result

We won the vote in the House of Lords - HOORAY!

150 Lords voted in favour of Reform and 54 against. Therefore an overwhelming majority of the Lords voted FOR Reform.

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 vote in the Lords - Very well done!

The website for the Reform Section 5 Campaign, where you can read up all about the campaign, is here:

The story is best reported in Pink News (which features my photo!):
Peter Tatchell hails House of Lords’ decision to pass insults law amendment:

The story is now also on the National Secular Society website. See here:

Photographer: Rakshita Patel
Tags: big society, peter tatchell, politics, religion
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