Remove ‘insult’ from public order law, says former DPP

Former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC has thrown his weight behind a campaign to amend Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Listen to Lord Macdonald’s comments

Reform Section 5, a new campaign group, is calling for the word “insulting” to be removed following concerns that it is hampering free speech.

Lord Macdonald appeared on Radio 5 yesterday alongside Dale Mcalpine and Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christians who have been wrongly arrested because of the law’s current wording.


Speaking on yesterday’s edition of Victoria Derbyshire’s programme Lord Macdonald said: “I think if we got rid of the word insulting it would simply provide a better balance between public order and free speech.”

He added: “One of the things we need in the law is consistency and I think it’s precisely because the term insulting is so imprecise that you’re going to get rogue decisions if legislation contains those sorts of terms.”

In 2010 Dale Mcalpine, a Christian street preacher, was arrested for describing homosexual conduct as a “sin”. The charges were later dropped.


In 2009 Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were put on trial following a debate with a Muslim guest at breakfast. They were later declared innocent.

Speaking on yesterday’s show Mrs Vogelenzang revealed how their business was crippled by the police investigation and said that the “law definitely needs to be changed”.

Simon Calvert, Campaign Director for Reform Section 5, said: “Last year, Lord Macdonald presented us with a legal opinion which demolished any claim that removing the word insulting from Section 5 would put vulnerable members of the public at risk.


“As he said to Victoria Derbyshire, there are plenty of other, more relevant, laws available. Section 5, however, is a catch-all blunderbuss of a law and it’s high time the Home Office fixed it.”

A Government consultation on the issue closed in January. Officials have yet to reveal when the Government will publish its response but the Home Office has confirmed that the issue is being “very carefully” considered.


The Reform Section 5 campaign, whose slogan is ‘feel free to insult me’, is a joint venture between The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society.

A recent poll conducted by ComRes showed that 62 per cent of MPs believe it should not be the business of Government to outlaw “insults.”

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