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That is enough about our friend, I think.
Section 5 of the 1986 Act outlaws
“threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” if they are likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”. The proposal that I wish to make, which I and the Liberals supported before, is the deletion of the lowest threshold of that offence, which is the word “insulting”. That would still leave the two higher thresholds of “threatening” and “abusive”.
The 1986 Act was brought in to replace the Public Order Act 1936, which had worked very well in dealing with the blackshirts and all that. The 1986 Act does not define the terms “threats” and “abuse”, but we all know them when we see them. The courts have often said that. Threat is obvious, is it not? It is when someone is in your face and there is a fear of violence, and abuse is when someone uses obscene language. Insult, however, is clearly something less serious and more subjective, and that is the problem. I believe that removing the word “insulting” would be enough to stop section 5 being misused and generating a chilling effect on free speech.