Feel free to insult me : Government backs Section 5 reform

peter tatchell protest london 2Do not adjust your screen – we bring good news from the Home Office.

From Lord Leveson’s report to the increasingly heavy-handed arrests for social media, freedom of speech was a major issue for Big Brother Watch in 2012 and we were at the fore of calls to change the law.

Today we had a glimmer of hope 2013 will be the year the tide turns and freedom of speech is enhanced and protected.

Speaking as the Crime and Courts Bill returned to the Commons for its second reading, the Home Secretary confirmed the Government would accept Lord Dear’s amendment to the legislation and support amending the Public Order Act 1986 to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Act.

This is a triumph for David Davis MP, Peter Tatchell, Rowan Atkinson, the Reform Section 5 campaign and all those who like Big Brother Watch supported the campaign – from the National Secular Society to the Christian Institute.

In a civil society, it is not for the police to intervene when someone feels they have been insulted. The Home Secretary and her Coalition colleagues should be applauded for this important reform.

This is a simple change but one that will do a huge amount to protect free speech. As the Director of Public Prosecutions and his predecessor both recognised, this change does not diminish the abilities of the police to arrest people for threatening or abusive language, nor does it make it harder to prosecute incitement.

We said at the time of the Government’s opposition to the amendment in the House of Lords it was a bizarre position to take and are very pleased that common sense has prevailed.

Of course, this is not the end of the campaign to defend freedom of speech. The Communications Act 2003 (responsible for the #twitterjoketrial ) and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (the Poppy arrest) are both in dire need of reform – new guidance is not enough.

We hope after today’s announcement the Home Office is inclined to explore these issues too.

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Home | 8 Comments


  1. Section 5 Victory in Sight - Guy Fawkes' blog
    15th January 2013

    […] Guido will believe it when he sees the devil in the detail but it sounds like the Home Office are starting to realise that the game is up when it comes to Section 5 of the Public Order Act – the law that says you cannot offend people. Campaign group Big Brother Watch report: […]

  2. Neigh More Don’t Ask Don’t Tell | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG
    15th January 2013

    […] can read other people’s views on Section 5 at Big Brother Watch, and The UK Human Rights […]

  3. James Maxwell
    15th January 2013

    Finally! Thank you to everybody who supported the campaign.

  4. P JH
    15th January 2013

    Anna Racoon has a piece up about how we shouldn’t be cheering just yet…

  5. Links 15/1/2013: Fedora 18 Released, Net Neutrality at Risk in France | Techrights
    16th January 2013

    […] Feel free to insult me : Government backs Section 5 reform […]

  6. mike
    20th January 2013

    i noted the home secretary’s statement that the DPP had been unable to identify any cases in which the word “insulting” alone had led to conviction. So how will this make a practical difference? won’t those who wish to oppress freedom of speech simply claim offence rather than insult?

  7. John Name
    17th February 2013

    @UK Police:- All your horses are gay.

    @UK Police dogs:- Woof.

  8. Big Brother Watch UK: The new ASBO is an assault on our liberty | ENOUGH!
    11th November 2013

    […] this year parliament voted to ditch a law which criminalised the use of insulting words or behaviour, yet this proposed legislation is […]