Free Speech Westminster Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson demands repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Act

By Mark Leiser | Research Fellow

October 10, 2013 | 3 min read

Actor Rowan Atkinson has launched a new campaign to turn back the culture of censorship after controversial arrests including a “Christian preacher, a critic of scientology, and a student making a joke”.

Actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson has condemned the “creeping culture of censoriousness” as he launched a new campaign calling for the repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Under Section 5, a person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

Free Speech is a protected right

Mr Atkinson believes that Section 5 is confusing and ill-informed and by using the word “insulting” has led to a batch of controversial arrests and incidents where free speech itself has come under attack. Atkinson said repealing the section would end the "outrage industry - self-appointed arbiters of the public good encouraging outrage to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react".Mr Atkinson said: "The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."

Atkinson launches a campaign to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act

"The law should not be aiding and abetting the new intolerance."Mr Atkinson was joined by Lord Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police, and former shadow home secretary David Davis at the campaign’s launch at Westminster. Davis said: "The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right."Prosecutions come fast and furious under Section 5 and range from prosecuting a protester who had attended a parade to celebrate the homecoming of soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. They had carried placards, chanted slogans such as "British soldiers - burn in hell", and had called the soldiers murderers and rapists. Other convictions under Section 5 were handed down after two protesters opposing the construction of the M11 motorway put their hands in front of surveyor’s measuring instrument blocking his view. In another case a man waved a newspaper in front of a police officer’s face and threatened to have him fired and was charged under Section 5.

Free Speech Westminster Rowan Atkinson

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