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24 January 2014

Government nuisance behaviour climbdown “a victory for free speech”

Government nuisance behaviour climbdown “a victory for free speech”

The Alliance has declared the government's climbdown on plans to outlaw annoying and nuisance behaviour as a "victory for free speech".

The Evangelical Alliance was part of Reform Clause 1 – a group of campaigners who were concerned that plans to replace ASBOs with IPNAs (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) would have had a chilling effect on free speech and would have subsequent implications for other currently legal activities.

Plans had been made to allow the courts to restrict any action "capable of causing nuisance or annoyance" by any person in any place.

The Alliance joined groups including the Christian Institute, Peter Tatchell and the National Secular Society, as well as a cross-party group of MPs and peers – led by Lord Dear - in opposing the plans.

Lord MacDonald, the former director of public prosecutions, had also said that "a busker outside a shopping centre, or a street preacher proclaiming the end of days to passers-by may all be capable of causing nuisance and annoyance to some person".

Following the three-month campaign and a key vote in the House of Lords earlier this month, where peers voted overwhelmingly for Lord Dear's amendment to the legislation, the government today confirmed they will accept the key changes. 

Commenting, Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Alliance, said: "This welcome change of mind by the government is not only a victory for free speech but also common sense because the original proposals would have resulted in serious and widespread unintended consequences. The home secretary is to be applauded for listening to the pleas made directly to her and this positive outcome clearly demonstrates the value of effective campaign groups working together."

Simon Calvert, campaign director for Reform Clause 1, said this was "a day to celebrate."

He added: "The original wording risked landing many ordinary people in court, which even the government could not deny. Ministers were unable to provide a single example of genuinely loutish behaviour that their new wording would protect against that the old wording did not.

"I am delighted that peers, led by Lord Dear, stood up for our civil liberties and that the Government has today seen sense and agreed to accept the thrust of the Lords amendments."