The House of Commons has affirmed the amendment to remove “insults” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.
This is a fulfilment of the Home Secretary’s promise to accept the amendment, which was passed by the House of Lords in December.
We can now say, officially, that Reform Section 5 has achieved its goal. The amendment cannot now be overturned, and so will become law later this year.
The Government Minister told the Committee in the House of Commons: “Those who have campaigned for this change in the law feel that the word ‘insulting’ in Section 5 could discourage people from exercising their right to freedom of speech.”
He said he strongly agreed with the view that “people should be able to, for example, express their religious views in the normal course of activities without feeling they are likely to be arrested for that”.
He added that the Government has considered this matter “very carefully” and recognises it is a case of “balancing the right of people in a democratic society to express themselves freely, with the need to protect the rights of others to go about their lawful business without being caused harassment, alarm or distress”.
He concluded by saying: “The Director of Public Prosecutions has re-examined the case law surrounding Section 5 and could not identify any case that could not be characterised as ‘abusive’ as well as ‘insulting’ in the types of areas where members and others have caused concern that the law would otherwise be inadequate.
“And he is therefore of the view that ‘insulting’ could safely be removed from Section 5 without undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions where that is appropriate. In light of that advice the Government is content for this clause to remain in the Bill.”