Govt consultation on public order law closes next week

Concerned citizens have until next Friday to respond to an official consultation on amending a controversial law which criminalises the use of insulting words.

You can respond to the consultation here.

Section 5 of the Public Order Act outlaws “insulting” words or behaviour. Many groups believe that it intrudes on free speech and has caused police officers to arrest innocent people.


Last July, the Government revealed that it would assess whether the law should be re-worded. A consultation on the issue is due to close on 13 January.

A broad spectrum of groups including Liberty, Justice, the National Secular Society and The Christian Institute are all in favour of changing the law. So too is Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

There have been a number of troubling cases where police officers have unjustly arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.


In 2008 a 16-year-old boy was protesting outside a Scientology centre. He faced a criminal trial because he was holding a sign describing Scientology as a “cult”.

The police relied upon Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The advocacy group, Liberty, took up his case amid widespread criticism of the police. The case was later dropped.

In 2006 demonstrators in Worcester were protesting against seal culling using toy seals coloured with red food dye.


Police informed them that the toys were deemed distressing by two members of the public.

The demonstrators were threatened with arrest and seizure of property under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

In 2010 a Christian man was arrested in Workington, Cumbria, for answering a Police Community Support Officer’s comments about sexual ethics.


Dale Mcalpine said that the Bible describes homosexual conduct as a sin. His arrest was recorded on a video camera.

In December 2009, Christian couple Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang stood trial for “insulting” a Muslim lady during a discussion about religion.

During the discussion the couple said Jesus is the Son of God not a prophet of Islam, and they expressed concern that Islamic dress code for women could be oppressive.

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