16 January 2013
Government finally sees the light on Section 5
The government has scrapped the crime of 'insulting' someone through words or behaviour, following pressure from both Christian and secular groups.
A diverse range of groups including the Evangelical Alliance and the National Secular Society have called for the word 'insulting' to be removed from Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
Campaigners thought the wording of the Act restricted free speech and penalises campaigners, protestors and preachers.
On Monday, home secretary Theresa May confirmed to MPs that the government would not overturn an amendment from the House of Lords to scrap the ban.
Campaigners have been arguing for change, not least as a response to many controversial arrests over the years, including the cause célèbre of Evangelical Alliance member Harry Hammond, who was arrested in Bournemouth Town Centre in 2001 for displaying signs deemed to be 'insulting'.
During discussion of the Crime and Courts Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary, put forward an amendment which was supported by peers voting 150 to 54 in favour. The amendment will now become law.
Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "We have been urging a change in the law for over 10 years because Christians and others were finding their freedom to preach the gospel publicly was being restricted merely because a few people said their feelings were insulted by statements they disagreed with.
"I regard this decision as a fitting tribute to the memory of Harry Hammond who was a fearless proclaimer of the gospel and who died before he could see the vindication of his courageous stance."
Reform Section 5 campaign director Simon Calvert said he was “very pleased” by the government’s statement.
He said: “This is a victory for free speech. People of all shades of opinion have suffered at the hands of Section 5. By accepting the Lords amendment to reform it the government has managed to please the widest possible cross-section of society. They have done the right thing and we congratulate them.”