Rowan Atkinson and Fry back campaign to make insults legal

Oct 18, 2012

Is there anybody who doesn't support campaign to drop Section 5, which makes it an offence to insult somebody?

ROWAN ATKINSON has launched a campaign against a 26-year-old law which has led to the arrest of peaceful protesters deemed to be guilty of insulting behaviour.

The Blackadder actor was speaking at an event to launch the 'Reform Section 5' campaign, which is backed by Christians and secularists alike. "The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such," said Atkinson. "Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult."

Section 5 is part of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws the use of words, behaviour or signs that are "threatening, abusive or insulting" near a person likely to be offended by them.

It has led to the arrests of an Oxford University student who asked a mounted police officer if he knew his horse was gay, a protester outside the London HQ of the Church of Scientology holding a placard saying 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult', and Christian hoteliers who were accused of asking a Muslim guest if she was a terrorist because she was wearing a hijab. All three cases were later dismissed.

Campaigners say the Public Order Act is being abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors, according to the Daily Mail. Last night, Atkinson said he wanted to "deal with the Outrage Industry: self-appointed arbiters of the public good, encouraging media-stoked outrage, to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react".

He said Facebook and Twitter had exposed "how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment".

Atkinson was joined by backbench Conservative MP David Davis, who 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."

'National treasure' Stephen Fry has also lent his considerable weight – he has nearly 5 million followers on Twitter – to the campaign, tweeting: "Insults aren't nice. But should they be illegal? Support my friends in removing 'insulting' from public order act."

The Reform Section 5 campaign has managed to unite such unlikely partners as the Christian Institute and National Secular Society, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Rod Liddle comments on this breadth of support in his Spectator column, saying he can find "nobody who wishes - in public at least" for Section 5 not to be reformed.

"Desmond Morris once posited that almost anything can be interpreted as an insult - depending upon the disposition of the person or creature who is perceived to be the victim. It has no objective status," he writes.

"I suspect I contravene Section 5 of the Public Order Act on a daily, if not hourly, basis. My wife claims that she is sometimes woken by me contravening it in my sleep."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Not much chance of Section 5 being dissolved or even sensibly changed. At least not so long as the overly touchy politically correct brigade are around. The subjective view of what is an insult is a far too useful weapon for the "protection" of minorities, the control of free speech and prevention of personal opinions.

Presumably you'd support the release of Barry Thew, who was given an eight-month custodial sentence for wearing a t-shirt mocking two murdered police women.

Or Matthew Woods, who was handed three months for making sick jokes about April Jones on Facebook.

Just wondering if you have a line you'd like to draw.

The 'line' is incitement to or threats of violence.

Which was not evident in either case. Neither was it in the case of Azhar Ahmed

Exactly. Bad taste should not be a crime. Reasonable responses to extreme bad taste are expressions of outrage, social pressure, shunning and so on. Not law courts and prison, which, apart from anything else, are incredibly expensive. Sledge hammers and nuts.

im right behind this.
The UK is so up its own ****.
its a completely soul destroying place to live.
cant do anything due to health and safety, cant say anything due to political correctness.
im just glad i get the opportunity to work abroad because i will literally lose my s**t if i have to be here permanently.

The right be insulted should be avoided, along with Section 5 being scrapped.

What we need is Freedom of Speech made into law, with no exceptions, I'm fed up of over sensitive people trying to shut down conversations by calling people racist all the time.

All or nothing, insults are just one facet of speech, let's make it all free, no compromise.

So, vote UKIP!

No line, it's self-regulatory, give people responsibility and they'll behave responsibly, society can function perfectly well without a nanny government.

All or nothing, complete freedom of speech.

How about non-physical bullying? It crosses the 'line' because actual harm is caused - quite different from 'offence' - but it is a difficult one to legislate.

Section 4a will still prevent "insult" with "intent to cause alarm" (the very purpose of protest). All of my emails to MPs are falling on deaf ears.

Its about time the British public Grew Up!!, I support wholeheartedly Rowan Atkinson,Stephen Fry , are we going to start prosecuting kids in the playgrounds!!

totally agree - I got cautioned a long tim by sticking my finger up at a 4x4 driver!

I would certainly support this campaign and sign any petition but I've tried google this for a little while and there does not seem to be a website or actual campaign that one can join. I suggest putting something out on social media so people can actually lend their support as I agree we have lost our freedom of speech in this country to such degree that my wife and I are considering leaving for a free society to start a family there. The British way of life has little enough going for I but if we cannot say what we think there is no reaosn to remain.

people should be able to speak there minds no matter what they say the good and the bad those who don't like this can get tea bagged move out of the UK the laws over there are stupid

I fully support this great law... that horse really could've had it's feelings hurt.

That Oxford student definitely deserved the gulag... how else could he have possibly learned sensitivity without prison?

DD "The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended"
It is illegal to hit someone and do them physical harm. We should be free from such harm.

Offence...a form of mental harm? more difficult to prove and what offends one may not offend another (whereas bruises show) but does that mean we should not be free from such harm? Bruises tend to heal. Not all mental damage does.

I'm undecided.