In the House of Commons there is growing momentum behind the campaign to protect freedom of speech by making a much needed crucial change to public order laws.
MPs from across the political parties have co-signed an amendment to remove ‘insulting’ words or behaviour from the scope of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The vote is expected in about three weeks. Amending Section 5 would be very significant. It would make clear to the police that conduct which is merely ‘insulting’ is not a criminal offence, while not diminishing in any way their powers to maintain law and order.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and the civil liberty groups ‘Justice’ and ‘Liberty’ back the change.
There is particular concern about cases such as the teenager who faced a trial for saying Scientology is a cult and Ben & Sharon Vogelenzang who underwent trial after a religious discussion with a Muslim guest.
The problem at present is that, as in the Vogelenzang case, a person offended by a disagreement (or claiming to be offended) can invoke Sect 5.
The Protection of Freedoms Bill presents an ideal opportunity to amend Section 5. Edward Leigh MP has tabled the amendment, known as New Clause 1. lt will be voted on at Report Stage of the Bill (expected in mid June).
Time to write to your MP?