A law that criminalises “insults” needs to be reformed, a Daily Telegraph commentator has said.
Cristina Odone believes that Section 5 of the Public Order Act “leaves too much room for personal score-settling, not to mention paranoia”.
Currently, Section 5 outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”, but what exactly constitutes “insulting” is unclear and has resulted in many controversial police arrests.
The commentator cited the case of a teenager who got into trouble under Section 5 for holding a placard calling Scientology a cult.
Earlier this year on Question Time she dismissed a protester against unpaid apprenticeship as “an ungrateful creature”.
A lawyer tweeted that such an “insult” was potentially a criminal offence.
In response to this she remarked: “I’d been living under two misapprehensions: first, that ‘creature’ was an acceptable rebuke here; second, that I had a right to be rude.”
The commentator praised the work of Reform Section 5, a campaign that is aiming to strip the word “insulting” from Section 5.
She said: “Thank goodness, an unlikely alliance of David Davis MP, Peter Tatchell and The Christian Institute are campaigning to change Section 5.
“Until they win, I’ll steer clear of calling anyone a ‘creature’ again.”
Politicians of all stripes, civil liberty groups and others have highlighted the need for change.
Last month Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash said fixing the problem is “not a party-political issue”, but rather: “It is about freedom. And it is about what it means to be British.”