House of Lords Votes to Remove Insulting Language Law

Because of the fact that there are too many citizens criminalized for innocuous comments, peers have now decided to change the Public Order Act 1986.

According to article 5 of this Act the usage of “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, whether vocalized or in the form of “writing, sign or other visible representation” appears to be a criminal offence.

Lord Geoffrey Dear offered a change in this Section 5 suggesting that the word ‘insulting’ needs to be dropped from the article. The House of Lords approved this change yesterday evening.

Many well-known people called for the change in the law. Among them are the human rights activist Peter Tatchell and actor Rowan Atkinson. Atkinson himself warned of a “creeping culture of censoriousness” and because of this, he started a campaign for a change to the law back in October.

Sometimes police uses this article 5 in some strange and even funny ways. Good examples for this are a student who was arrested just because he called a police horse “gay” and a teenager who had serious troubles after brandishing a placard with the slogan “Scientology is a dangerous cult”.

Earlier this week Lord Dear called for a change to the law, claiming that “Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986…can be used to undermine free speech because of the way it is framed”.

The government, however, did not want this changes so peers were urged not to vote the amendment with the argument that nobody may say for sure that the removal of the word ‘insulting’ would have a positive effect.

The opinion of the gay rights group Stonewall shows they think that the law shouldn’t be changed but there should be a clearer guidance for the usage of section 5 by police officers.

“Section five is a useful and important tool to respond to and prevent deeply offensive homophobic language frequently targeted at one in eight gay people a year,” said policy officer Sam Dick.

It seems that you might not need an Insulting Language Policy for your business, but  do look in the rest of our HR Documents