This is because you may very well “intend” to hold an ‘abusive’ (read “impassioned”) public discourse over a particular issue (by virtue of the fact that you have consciously chosen to stand in a public place and impart your opinions in a passionate manner), but nevertheless, you might not have “intended” to cause distress thereby. However, you might find yourself arrested for inadvertently causing distress by virtue of such a provision, because “intent” would not required vis-à-vis the subsequent emotional response (distress) of the audience, irrespective of whether such speech was intended to provide a reasonable contribution to public discourse. Nevertheless, my “intended to cause distress” proposal could still provide a sufficiently flexible response in that if such language as “homosexuality is sin” was imparted in a manner which intended (within that context) to cause distress, or to take a more explicit example such as “you stupid b*stard”, then such words could effectively be dealt with by the police. It is unreasonable to assume however that a public speaker can anticipate the emotional response of their entire audience vis-à-vis an abstract discussion.
Nevertheless, such changes would now necessitate a further amendment to the POA that from hereon in, the “abusive” threshold might fail to catch out such statements as “I had sex with your girlfriend last night, she was ‘reeaal’ good” and “are you starting on me? Go on, I dare you”. This is because the word “abusive” (to my mind) would appear to constitute language which is somewhat stronger than this. Accordingly, a new provision should be added to the POA of “personal taunts intended to cause distress”. This could suitably filter out such types of speech, while failing to have any impact on legitimate, yet offensive public speakers.
In order that sale of T Shirts such as “b*llocks to Blair” might be allowed to continue unabated in the future, it is important that swearing is not criminalised in and of itself under changes to this legislation, unless such language “intended” to cause distress. In these circumstances, my “taunts” and “abusive language” provisions could take effect and tackle such speech, for instance, “you f*cking prat”, and yet would continue to protect “b*llocks to Blair” if this constituted nothing more than a criticism of his politics. This would also suitably protect such exclamations such as “Oh sh*t”, which may very well offend some, but would hardly seem worthy of prosecution.
I would suggest that racial, homophobic and religious slurs should be prohibited in their entirety as part of a separate provision, so that the requirement of “intent” in my other provisions does not hinder arrest. However, any “slur” threshold should also require “malice”– to protect discussions such as this.
Realising that “intent” in the abusive threshold may be difficult to prove in all circumstances, even if action against a speaker might be desirable because he/she is causing significantly distress albeit unintentionally, then the only reasonable compromise in such circumstances is to allow the police to “relocate” the speaker, provided that the law stipulates that any new location must also conform to the wishes of the speaker. If we chose to remain with the status quo and continue to provide arrest for unintentional abuse, we will continue criminalise individuals such as Shawn Holes for the unpredictable emotional responses of those around them. This provision would replace the need to criminalise unintentional harassment happens now.
The “threatening” threshold should be amended to ensure that language such as “gay people you are going to hell unless you repent” cannot fall within the remit of the POA, as it currently might. The double threshold of “advocating physical violence” and “in view of the circumstances, is likely to solicit a violent response” would provide a better test. The “hell” example would no longer satisfy such thresholds (in that “hell” could not itself fall within the realm of the physical), while speech threatening to cause violence could continue to be prevented. Moreover, discussions such as “homosexuality and paedophilia are interconnected”, which have a significant potential to encourage violence against the gay community, could continue to be prevented.
Remove the words “alarm” from the Act. In 2005, a university student was arrested for asking a police officer if he knew that his horse was gay. It can not be reasonably argued that this would have caused the police officer a great deal of “distress”. However, it could be argued that this comment caused “alarm” in the sense of its intrinsic shock value. No one should be arrested for simply “shocking” someone with their words, intentional or otherwise, and accordingly “alarm” should be removed.
Finally, change the law so that only the Supreme Court can rule a demonstration illegal. Currently, this responsibility falls with the Home Secretary under section 13 of the POA, and is potentially open to party political abuse. Put all speech regulations vis-à-vis its content into this Bill, so we know exactly where the parameters lie. Currently, it is almost impossible to know whether your speech is protected, because regulations are spread over a series of Acts of parliament. Moreover, no one should ever face jail unless they intend to incite hatred, cause emotional distress or disorder.