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Scrap law on 'insulting words and behaviour' that censors free speech, MPs urgeLaw has 'disproportionate impact on freedom of expression’, say MPs and peers
23:25 GMT, 26 November 2012
Controversial legislation that criminalises ‘insulting’ words and behaviour should be scrapped, MPs and peers urged yesterday.
The law – which has been used to arrest a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and a student who made a joke – has a ‘disproportionate impact on freedom of expression’, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said.
In a report, it recommended that ministers accept an amendment which would remove the ‘insulting’ offence from the Public Order Act.
No results: Home Secretary Theresa May began a consultation on scrapping the offence last year but no response has come
Section 5 of the 1986 Act says someone is guilty for just using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the sight or earshot of a person ‘likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress’.
Critics say the law is a catch-all which censors innocent remarks and leaves it to police and courts to decide what constitutes ‘insulting’ words or behaviour.
Home Secretary Theresa May began a consultation on scrapping the offence last year but the Government has not yet responded.
Crime: An offence is committed when abusive words or behaviour occur within sight or earshot of a person 'likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress'
The joint committee said: ‘We understand the sensitivities within certain communities on this issue, but we nonetheless support an amendment to the Bill.’
An amendment could be debated during the House of Lords report stage of the Crime and Courts Bill today.
In its report, the committee also urged caution for plans to allow cameras in court.
It supported the Government’s aim to make justice ‘as transparent and publicly accessible as possible’ but warned that allowing trials to be filmed could deter vulnerable witnesses, including sex abuse victims, from coming forward.