Sections 4A and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 should be repealed and replaced with the text below.
Section 4A is overbroad and no longer needed in its current form. Section 5 is also an overbroad section that licences arbitrary interferences with free speech and peace protest. It is so overbroad that it grants the police carte blanc to arrest those whose views they find objectionable, or people they want to simply control. The police have ample powers to deal with disorderly or anti-social conduct. And there are also adequate provisions on the statute book to deal with harassment.
These sections should be repealed and replaced with a provision that requires an intent to cause a breach of the peace. This would bring the law into conformity with the ECHR and go some way to restoring old the common law position.
Section 5 Insulting, Abusive or Threatening Conduct
(1) Any person who in any public place uses threatening, abusive or insulting conduct, words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or where by a breach of the peace would be imminent in all the circumstances shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) Any person who displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or where by a breach of the peace would be imminent in all the circumstances shall be guilty of an offence.
(3) No offence shall be committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a domestic dwelling.
(4) A ‘public place’ in subsection (1) includes a public meeting.
Why is this idea important?
These sections chill free speech in England and Wales, limit the scope of legitimate public protest and may be abused by police officers with little hope of redress for those affected. Repealing and replacing these provisions with those above would represent a more acceptable balance between free speech and public order.