The Christian Institute

News Release

Poppy burners won’t escape arrest, says former DPP

Speculation that “poppy burners” and troublemakers who call soldiers “murderers” could escape arrest if the word “insulting” is removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act is very wide of the mark, according to a legal opinion by former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC.

The legal opinion:

One-page summary:

In his legal opinion on the proposed amendment to the law, Lord Macdonald QC said: “In its opposition to the proposed amendment, the government appears to rely upon R v Haque and Choudhury, a case in which two men were convicted under section 5 after burning poppies at a Remembrance Day parade.

“It seems to be suggested that because this case was prosecuted under the ‘insulting’ provisions, it somehow represents an example of conduct that could no longer be prosecuted in the event that the proposed amendment becomes law.

“In my view, this argument is entirely misconceived. This is because, in his judgment, Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle specifically noted that the defendants’ conduct “as well as being insulting…may also be seen as abusive”.

“Furthermore, and given the risk of public disorder from the defendants’ behaviour, he considered prosecution to have been a proportionate interference with the individuals’ rights to freedom of expression.

“It would, I think, be extremely challenging to contend that the behaviour of these men was not abusive and I conclude that they would certainly have faced prosecution even under amended legislation.

“A similar point can be made in the case of Abdul v DPP [2011] EWHC 247 [2011] H.R.L.R. 16. Here, the High Court dismissed an appeal against the conviction under section 5 of five appellants for protesting at a homecoming parade of soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“They had chanted “British soldiers murderers” and “British soldiers go to hell”. Gross LJ noted that the Court below had held that the words were “both abusive and insulting”. Davis J concluded that such behaviour was “personally abusive and….set in context, potentially inflammatory”.”

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, civil liberty groups, secularist groups and faith groups – including The Christian Institute – have long called for the word “insulting” to be dropped from the Section 5 offence because of free speech concerns.

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “The media has been given misleading information about the effects of amending Section 5. Of course police would still have the power to arrest poppy burners and troublemakers who call soldiers ‘murderers’. Such conduct is clearly ‘abusive’ and would therefore still be covered by an amended Section 5 offence, plus other laws.

“There are those within the Government and the police who don’t want to see Section 5 amended. But there have been too many cases of police arresting lawful and peaceful citizens simply because someone was ‘insulted’ by their words or actions. Let’s free up police time so that, instead of enforcing political correctness, they can deal with the real abuse and the real troublemakers.”