A majority of MPs back law change
Section 5 of the Public Order Act needs reform
Government criticised over delay on abolition
London – 30 August 2012
“David Cameron should announce legislation to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The public consultation closed in January and the government was due to announce its decision in April. We are still waiting. We believe that a majority of submissions to the consultation support a change in the law,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights advocacy organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“Most MPs back reform, as does the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald QC. The government’s delay and hesitation is unjustified. The criminalisation of mere insults under Section 5 is a threat to free speech. There are other laws to deal adequately with harassment, threats and serious abuse.”
Mr Tatchell was speaking at a protest outside parliament this morning, organised by the Reform Section 5 campaign: www.reformsection5.org.uk
“In 1994, I was prosecuted under Section 5 for displaying a placard that condemned the Islamist extremists of Hizb ut Tahrir who had advocated the murder of LGBT people and Islamist governments like Iran and Saudi Arabia that have the death penalty for homosexuality. My placard read: ‘Islam Nazis behead & burn queers.’”
PHOTOS of today’s Section 5 protest outside parliament are below and here (free use, no charge):
“If the criminalisation of insults was abolished, the rest of Section 5, which outlaws abusive and threatening words or behaviour, would remain in force. This is quite sufficient to protect vulnerable people and communities,” added Mr Tatchell.
“While our campaign does not encourage or endorse insults, we don’t believe they should be criminal offences. There have been too many abuses of this draconian law. Section 5 was invoked 18,000 times in 2009.
“Section 5 has been used against a student who joked that a police horse was gay, a pensioner who said that religious beliefs were fairy stories, a street preacher who criticised homosexuality as immoral and a youth who condemned Scientology as a dangerous cult.
“The Home Office is still considering its response to the public consultation, which saw many people make the case for the removal from Section 5 of ‘insulting words or behaviour.’ Civil liberties campaigners, faith groups and secular organisations have joined forces to have the phrase removed on the grounds that it restricts free speech and unfairly penalises protesters and preachers.
“Supporters of the campaign to reform Section 5 include: The Christian Institute, The National Secular Society, The Peter Tatchell Foundation, The Bow Group, Big Brother Watch, and The Freedom Association.
“The reform Section 5 campaign has cross-party support in parliament. A ComRes poll found that 58% of MPs support repealing the insults ban and 62% believe that the criminal law should not prohibit mere insults,” said Mr Tatchell.