Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire show, Lord Macdonald emphatically threw his weight behind the campaign to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act. He said:
“I think the problem with the word insulting is that it encourages the police and sometimes prosecutors to go after people who are being no more than rude or offensive.”
Referring to the cases of an Oxford student arrested under Section 5 for telling a policeman that his horse was gay, and the arrest of a protester who held a sign saying “Scientology is a cult” the former Director of Public Prosecutions said:
“These may be bad jokes, they may be rude behaviour, but certainly in a democratic society this sort of behaviour should not be criminal. People shouldn’t be arrested, prosecuted and locked up for that sort of behaviour.”
Lord Macdonald criticised the “rogue decisions” emanating from some elements of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and dismissed claims that the eventual acquittals in some of the controversial Section 5 offences shows that the law is in fact working.
“It’s working to the extent that the final adjudication is the right one, but in the meantime someone has been arrested, perhaps taken to a police station, charged with a criminal offence, having to go to court, stand in a dock, give evidence, be cross-examined, with all the stress that involves.
“We’re talking about cases which shouldn’t have been brought in the first place.”
Simon Calvert, Campaign Director for Reform Section 5, said:
“We are delighted to have earned the support of the former Director of Public Prosecutions. 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.”
Click here to listen to Lord Macdonald on Radio 5’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, broadcast 30 May 2012.