It’s Insult Someone Saturday!

What are you talking about?

Let’s make this Saturday (1st February 2014) ‘National Insult Someone Day’. Or at least in England & Wales. That is the day that s57 Crime and Courts Act 2013 comes into force – pretty exciting?

Er, yes. What does that mean?

This amends s5 Public Order Act 1986 which makes it a criminal offence to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” by deleting ‘insulting’.

So I’ve got freedom of speech back?

Well, don’t get too carried away.

This only applies to s5 (the least serious public order offence). It is still an offence to use threatening words if you are intending to cause a person ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ or “intending to cause that other person to believe that immediate unlawful violence would be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another or whereby that other person was likely to believe that such violence would be used or it was likely that such violence would be provoked”.

Two cases to read about how Courts should approach the question of freedom of speech in public order cases are Dehal v CPS [2005] EWHC 2154 (Admin) and Abdul v DPP [2011] EWHC 247.

Why triggered this ?

Due to concerns that the restrictions on freedom of speech were unduly onerous, there was a consultation by the Home Office looking at, amongst other things) how the s5 offence should be reformed. This got 3,000 responses, mostly in favour of scrapping the prohibition on ‘insulting’ speech. This  lead to the  changes set out above.

What difference will this make?

Hard to say really. We suspect that in the final analysis the answer will be ‘not much’. It is perhaps telling that the response from the CPS included this – “the DPP subsequently considered the case law in greater depth and advised that the CPS were unable to identify any case that could not be characterised as “abusive” as well as “insulting””.

Which says it all really. There are very few scenarios where someone, without intending any offence, manages to be insulting without abusive. There is still plenty of room for silliness. You are still at risk if you call a horse ‘gay’ because this is probably abusive.

Even if the difference is purely symbolic, this may still have a positive impact. Hopefully it will cause the CPS to pause before charging offences. Also, in future cases where the Art 10 (freedom of expression) question is dealt with, the Court may take the changes on 1st February as an indication from Parliament that a more tolerant approach to speech crime should be adopted.

Well, fuck off then

Charmed. This comes into force on 1st February 2014 and, as it’s still January, I’m calling the police.


fuck off

6 thoughts on “It’s Insult Someone Saturday!

  1. brian johnson

    It won’t make any difference. If the police don’t like what you are doing they will arrest first and ask questions later. Insulting may have been removed but disorderly behaviour remains and the CPS will use this meaningless term instead.
    For instance the new CPS guidelines on prosecuting nudity in public places (including back gardens?) says that nudity could be considered disorderly behaviour.
    In fact any behaviour could be considered disorderly if the Court has decided to convict. (Don’t be taken in by the idea that Judges are always fair and unbiased and that they base their judgements on the evidence and the law).

  2. David James

    One online dictionary suggests “abusive” means “extremely insulting” but it rather blows that definition by suggesting “insulting” as a synonym. It does appea to be a revocation with no point.

    Perhaps an insult with a sense of objective achievement would side-step being “abusive”: for example, “Chris, some of the guys and I have been talking about this and we reckon that whilst you are easily the least qualified person for your job in over 1,000 years, we would hope you to get better at in time. That said, we still fully expect you to be the worst holder of this office in all of recorded time unless they appoint an attention-deficient ape in your place. Perhaps you can reflect on this achievement and consider resigning before you do any more damage.”

  3. John Allman

    “There are very few scenarios where someone, without intending any offence, manages to be insulting without abusive.”

    An example of what Bertrand Russell called “emotive conjugation”, might be

    I offer critique
    You insult
    He is abusive

    The word abusive is widely abused. In private family law,

    She is assertive
    He is abusive

    for example. (Trust me, I know.)

    The word “abusive” needs to removed from the section too.

    Actually, the word “threatening” needs to go too. How on earth does one distinguish between advising somebody, warning somebody, and threatening them? The entire section needs to be repealed. It is an outrage. Parliament has criminalised on the street the sort of banter heard at every occasion of Prime Minister’s Questions.

    Time was when MPs were required refrain from “unparliamentary language”. Hence Churchill’s famous withdrawal at the Speaker’s request of the word “lie”, and the coining of the phrase “terminological inexactitude” as his replacement of choice for that taboo word. The man on the street was allowed to use more robust language than was expected of parliamentarians. The recent arrest of Tony Miano (in Scotland, and not under the Act under discussion) illustrates that nowadays on can be arrested on the street for using language that the Speaker would allow in the Commons without batting an eyelid. He hasn’t available the defence against the charge of “breach of the peace” that he used only the most parliamentary of language. In other words, the rest of us are held to *higher* standards of behaviour than the MPs hold themselves. What hypocrisy!

  4. Andrew

    I make no claim to be infallible
    You are incompetent
    He is a typesetter on the Grauniad.

    I stretch the truth
    You are a bloody liar.
    S/he is a Member of Parliament.

    Come on, people, don’t leave it all to me!


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