The police will still be able to deal with genuine public disorder even if the word ‘insulting’ is repealed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, a former senior prosecutor says.
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Neil Addison, a barrister and religious liberty commentator, also warned that in its current form the Public Order Act has been “misused” to attack free speech.
Mr Addison, who has in the past prosecuted countless cases involving Section 5, said: “I cannot remember a single case of genuine public disorder that relied on the word ‘insulting’ in order to secure a conviction.”
“So, if the word ‘insulting’ was to be removed from the Public Order Act, I do not see that it would cause any problem to prosecutors or police,” he continued.
Mr Addison added: “I have become increasingly concerned at the way in which the Public Order Act is being misused in order to prevent freedom of speech.”
A number of other groups are also calling for the word ‘insulting’ to be removed from Section 5.
Justice, a civil liberties organisation, has argued that Section 5 is an “extremely broad offence” and that removing the word ‘insulting’ “would go some way to prevent the overuse of this power in the context of protests and demonstrations”.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has also called for the removal of the word ‘insulting’, expressing concern that it has been used to restrain freedom of speech.
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto promised that the Party would: “Restore the right to protest by reforming the Public Order Act to safeguard non-violent protest even if it offends”.
In 2009 Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, now Attorney General, said he was “sympathetic” to the idea of repealing the word ‘insulting’ from the Public Order Act.
Ed Miliband, the new leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that the former Labour Government went too far in restricting civil liberties.
Earlier this week two Christian pensioners, who were interrogated by police officers in 2005 because they disagreed with their council’s promotion of homosexuality, called for a change to the public order law.
The couple said: “We hadn’t committed any crime, we had just expressed an opinion. But we were interviewed by police officers for over an hour because of our Christian beliefs.”
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Earlier in the month Christian street preacher Dale Mcalpine called for a change to the public order law.
Mr Mcalpine, from Workington in Cumbria, was arrested earlier this year after he described homosexuality as a sin during a conversation with a police community support officer.
Mr Mcalpine said: “I should not have been treated like this, and I don’t want other people to be treated like this either.”
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Two Christian hoteliers from Liverpool who were subjected to a criminal trial because of comments they made about Islam have also called for the law to be reformed.
Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who were declared innocent last December, were prosecuted under Section 5 of the Public Order Act after a female Muslim guest at their hotel complained that she had been offended by the couple’s comments.
Speaking earlier this month Mrs Vogelenzang said: “As Christians we should help each other. We want to help people by making sure that this can’t happen again to anyone else.
“That’s why we are asking you to tell your MP that the Freedom Bill should repeal the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.”
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