MPs confirm public order law reform in free speech victory

MPs have today confirmed that a controversial public order law that criminalises “insulting” words or behaviour will be reformed to give greater freedom of speech.

The move follows the Government giving way on the issue last month, after a vote in the House of Lords.

The bid to change the law was spearheaded by Reform Section 5 – a campaign supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and others.


Reacting to the news, Simon Calvert, the Campaign Director for Reform Section 5 (RS5), said it was “a great victory for free speech”.

He also commented: “This is a fulfilment of the Home Secretary’s promise to accept the amendment, which was passed by the House of Lords in December.

“We can now say, officially, that Reform Section 5 has achieved its goal. The amendment cannot now be overturned, and so will become law later this year.”

Rowan Atkinson

The issue centred on Section 5 of the Public Order Act. It currently outlaws “insulting” words or behaviour that may cause alarm or distress to a person, and has resulted in many controversial arrests.

In December last year Peers voted by 150 to 54 in favour of an amendment to remove the word “insulting” from the law.

Now, following a decision today by a House of Commons committee, the amendment will become law in the coming months.

Comedian Rowan Atkinson added his support to the campaign last year, warning that merely stating a different point of view could lead to an arrest unless the law is changed.

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