MPs favour a proposed change to remove a controversial law that criminalises “insulting” words or behaviour, according to a new poll.
A majority of both Conservative and Liberal Democrats – 79 per cent and 70 per cent respectively – back the change, according to a survey by leading opinion pollster ComRes.
Campaigners want to reform the law because over-zealous police officers have misused it to interfere in legitimate protest.
Last month the Government was defeated in the House of Lords when Peers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Lord Dear’s amendment to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
The amendment has now been incorporated into Clause 38 of the Crime and Courts Bill, which is due to go before the House of Commons on 14 January.
The campaign to reform Section 5 has united a diverse range of campaigners, MPs from the left and right, faith-based groups, secularists and comedians.
Simon Calvert, Reform Section 5 Campaign Director, said: “Day by day the pressure is mounting on the Government to ditch this legislation that criminalises free speech.”
“A majority of parliamentarians from both the Lords and the Commons recognise that this legislation should be reformed.
“It’s about time the Government recognised that dropping the word ‘insulting’ from the law will stop innocent people from being arrested and hauled before the Courts without harming the ability of police and prosecutors to protect the public.”
Mr Calvert concluded: “The move is sensible, popular, and they should get on with it.”
Last month the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, said the word “insulting” could be removed from Section 5, in a letter to Lord Dear, the former HM Inspector of Constabulary.
Currently, Section 5 outlaws abusive, threatening and insulting words or behaviour.
Mr Starmer wrote, “having now considered the case law in greater depth, we are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as ‘abusive’ as well as ‘insulting'”.
He added: “I therefore agree that the word ‘insulting’ could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions”.