Peers to vote on ‘insult’ law this week

Mon, 10 Dec 2012

The House of Lords will vote on Wednesday on reforming a controversial law that criminalises “insulting” words or behaviour, as pressure mounts on the Government to act.

Peers will debate and vote on an amendment proposed by Lord Dear, former HM Inspector of Constabulary, to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Supporters for reform include Rowan Atkinson, The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Unclear

Currently, Section 5 of the Act outlaws “insulting words or behaviour”, but what exactly constitutes “insulting” is unclear and has resulted in many controversial police arrests.

Despite a Government consultation on the issue having closed in January this year, the Home Office has yet to announce its response to the demands for reform.

Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, human rights group Justice reiterated its support for changing the law.

Vital

The group’s comments come as the Equality and Human Rights Commission also backed reform – saying it was “vital to protect free speech”.

And last month comedian Rowan Atkinson said: “The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such.”

He gave the examples of criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, or “merely stating an alternative point of view”.

Gag

Mr Atkinson cautioned against “a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent” – something he said could be called a “New Intolerance”.

The comedian made the comments at a parliamentary reception for Reform Section 5.

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