A group of protestors gathered outside Parliament today to demand greater protection for free speech by reforming Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
They say the law is being widely misused by police officers to interfere with freedom of expression, and it should be amended.
The Government has promised to look at the issue, but has been accused of dragging its feet.
Section 5 outlaws, amongst other things, “insulting” words or behaviour that might cause someone distress.
But the protestors say the word “insulting” has a very low threshold and is too easily breached. They want the word “insulting” removed from Section 5.
That would still leave the police with powers to tackle abusive and threatening words or behaviour. And police also have other powers to deal with disorder.
The current wording of Section 5 has resulted in several controversial cases that have hit the headlines.
Kyle Little was arrested under Section 5 for what was described as a “daft little growl” and a “woof” aimed at two Labrador dogs.
Although the dog owner did not want a prosecution, Mr Little was detained for five hours and prosecuted.
Section 5 was used to issue a court summons to a 16-year-old protestor for peacefully holding a placard that read: “Scientology is not a religion it is a dangerous cult.”
An Oxford student was arrested under Section 5 for saying to a policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?” Police accused the student of homophobia.
An atheist pensioner who placed a small sign in the window of his home saying “religions are fairy stories for adults” was told by police he could be arrested under Section 5 if he refused to remove the poster.
Christian café owner Jamie Murray was warned by two police officers that displaying texts from the New Testament in his café could be a breach of Section 5.
Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were charged with breaching Section 5 for engaging in a conversation with a Muslim guest about Mohammed and Islamic dress for women.
The Reform Section 5 campaign is supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and others.
There is cross-party support in Parliament for reforming Section 5, and Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights also calls for change.
Last year the Minister for Crime and Security, James Brokenshire, said: “We must ensure officers on the ground have all the necessary legal measures available to them to protect our streets and keep the public safe.
“But we must also make sure any new powers do not trample upon traditional British freedoms.”
The Government set up a public consultation on whether Section 5 should be amended or not.
It closed in January, and seven months later the Government has yet to publish the results.
Campaigners say the Government is dragging its feet and today’s protest outside Parliament shows that the issue hasn’t gone away.