On this day: Peers vote to defend free speech

On 12 December 2012, in a victory for free speech, the House of Lords voted to reform a controversial law that criminalised ‘insulting’ words or behaviour.

Peers voted 150 to 54 in favour of an amendment to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

The amendment to the law was put forward by Lord Dear, a former Chief Constable and HM Inspector of Constabulary.


The Government eventually agreed to reform Section 5 to give greater protection to free speech.

The then Home Secretary Theresa May announced in the House of Commons in January 2013 that the word ‘insulting’ would be removed.

The result was welcomed by Reform Section 5 (RS5) – the free speech campaign backed by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Actor Rowan Atkinson gave a speech in support of the change in the law.