Lords says yes to Section 5 reform

peter tatchell protest london 2Last night the Government suffered heavy defeat on the reform of Section 5, a campaign Big Brother Watch has been proud to support.

As Baroness Smith of Basildon noted: “it is nearly a year since the Government launched their consultation on public order policing and whether the word “insulting” should be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. In the Committee on this Bill-a good five months after the close of the consultation-the Minister said that he hoped that at Report stage, the Government “will be able to put forward the Government’s considered view to the House”. Since then, the Government had a further five months to come to a decision, and yet-unless the Minister is going to make an announcement this evening-even at this stage, we still have not had a public announcement from the Government about their position, or about the findings and evidence from the consultation which your Lordships’ House has asked for.”

However, Lord Taylor responded for the Government: “the Government strongly holds the view that the word “insulting” should be retained in Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The Government have a responsibility to protect the public so that communities and law-abiding citizens can live in peace and security. The police must have the powers they need to meet this responsibility.”

Lord Dear, the former Chief Constable of the West Midlands who had proposed the amendment in the House of Lords, concluded: “We have a picture on the one hand that everything is well, despite the fact that the current DPP, the ex-DPP and the ex-Lord Chancellor-a plethora of legal minds in this House-have said that “insulting” can and should come out. The law is not leaving a hole in its place; “abusive” will cover it. There is the safety net of Section 4A, what is left of Section 5 and other legislation. I am deeply disappointed. I had hoped that the Government would support this, with the wide-ranging, voluminous support that there is on all sides of the House, from people who have much better experience than me.”

Indeed, only last week the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said in a letter to Lord Dear,“…having now considered the case law in greater depth, we are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as “abusive” as well as “insulting”.

“I therefore agree that the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions…”

From David Davis MP to Peter Tatchell, the current and former DPP to the Association of Chief Police officers, it seems the only people opposing reform of Section 5 reside in the Home Office.

It is to be greatly celebrated then that the House of Lords did not share their view, with just 54 Lords supporting the current position, compared to 150 who supported the amendment.

The campaign goes on, but it is one step closer to changing this unwarranted restriction on free speech.


  1. Guest
    14th December 2012

    Good news, what about reforming that silly law which allows UK police to seize your vehicle based on hearsay of bad driving? surely it should be the police themselves which catch you doing that before impounding your car?

  2. Man on Clapham Omnibus
    19th December 2012

    ‘The law is not leaving a hole in its place; “abusive” will cover it.’ So whats the fuss about?
    Both abusive and insulting should come out IMO.

  3. sickofcorruption
    1st February 2013

    The CPS are not innocent in their abuse of sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act fand Kier Starmer’s apparent concession does not impress me when his organisation are (and continue to be) part of the problem.

    In my view and experience, the Police regularly abuse this legislation as a ‘catch all’ to massage their performance targets with great ease. Many an innocent person has been terrorised by the police (particularly if the “victim” who’s allegedly suffered an ‘insult’ happens to have friends in the police force). And the CPS are part of the problem as they allow the police to use this legislation when they have the power to stop the police from abusing and pursuing the vast majority of prosecutions (or more accurately, persecutions) under this legislation.

    Additionally, I am disappointed with Mr Macdonald’s legal opinion that you’ve helpfully linked in the article: It is noteworthy that neither Keir Starner nor Mr Macdonald saw fit to cite or consider the 2005 case of Dehal v CPS on this issue. Notwithstanding the Dehal case, the CPS continues to ignore that case law and continues to allow the police to abuse this legislation.

    Neutral Citation Number: [2005] EWHC 2154 (Admin)

    Alas, neither have taken any notice! Perhaps you could put some pressure on Mr Starner to justify why his organisation allow the vast majority of these prosecutions to be brought at all???!!! Most of the cases have NO nexus to public order!!!

    Please study the case and see the appeal court’s conclusion….quote….

    “I repeat, the important factor upon which the Crown
    Court should have focused and upon which on its face it appears not to have
    focused is the justification for bringing any criminal prosecution at all. However insulting, however unjustified what
    the appellant said about the President of the Temple, a criminal prosecution
    was unlawful as a result of section 3 of the Human Rights Act and Article 10
    unless and until it could be established that such a prosecution was necessary
    in order to prevent public disorder.”…enquote

  4. sickofcorruption
    1st February 2013

    By the way….thank you for your work on this issue. It is a great comfort to know that there are people who take action and stand against injustice.