Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Great Repeal Bill wish list 4: Public Order Act - section 5

Andy Stephenson and Kathryn Sloane feel fairly strongly about abortion. So strongly, that they decided to mount a (peaceful) public protest outside an abortion clinic in Brighton. Their method of making their case was to display a large (7ft by 5 ft) graphic banner which showed a picture of an aborted human embryo. Police were called by a member of staff concerned that patients entering the clinic felt traumatised and upset. The Police arrived and told Mr Stephenson and Miss Sloane to take down their banner. They did so, replacing it with another similar banner. The police then arrested the pair, and took them to the police station. And there they held them for 14 hours before finally releasing them at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Mr Stephenson and Miss Sloane were released on police bail, and are due to return to court tomorrow to hear if they will be prosecuted under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. (Thanks to Gary Benfold for bringing this story to my notice.)

The issue, of course, is freedom of speech. I was somewhat amused by the comments of Ann Furedi, the head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who said she fully supported the right of pro-life activists to demonstrate against abortion clinics - but who then added: "There is a distinction between freedom of expression and actions that are designed to distress people who are accessing legal, medical services." Actually, there isn’t. And it’s not as if Mr Stephenson and Miss Sloane simply wanted to distress people for the fun of it. They were trying to make the point that what abortion does to an embryo is something very distressing.


A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Section 5 was also the legislation under which Dale McAlpine was arrested.

It seems to me that Section 5 is a piece of legislation in need of repealing. I’ve asked before, but I’ll ask again: “Why do we have a law on our statute book which means that someone can be guilty of a crime simply for using "insulting" words within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused "distress"?” The words “abusive or insulting” should go. In fact, the whole section should go - since the matter of threatening behaviour is covered by Section 4 of the Act.

Now, to be honest, I don’t like the pictures that Mr Stephenson and Miss Sloane displayed. They would put me right off my cocoa and buns. But that’s not the point, is it?

So let’s hope that Section 5 is included in Mr. Clegg’s Great Repeal Act.

10 comments:

Stuart said...

Totally agree.

Cross-posting.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks, Stuart.

I'm glad to see that you are restored to health.

Stuart said...

Thanks so much am a million times better.

Albert said...

I can't see how they've broken this law. In order for it to apply what they have done has first to be "threatening, abusive or insulting". It isn't any of them. It just tells the truth. This arrest is just another example of contemporary society being too ashamed to admit the sins it is not too ashamed to commit.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//"threatening, abusive or insulting". It isn't any of them. It just tells the truth.//

For some people the truth is a very grave threat.

Albert said...

Indigomyth,

For some people the truth is a very grave threat.

Especially if you spend your time (or worse, make your money) scraping babies out of women's bodies. If anything, I think there should be a law that women should be shown these pictures before having an abortion - anything less, surely colludes with their ignorance of the procedure, and prevents them from making a rational choice.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//I think there should be a law that women should be shown these pictures before having an abortion - anything less, surely colludes with their ignorance of the procedure, and prevents them from making a rational choice.//

Not surprisingly I disagree with you on the issue of using the law. However, I believe that it would be more constructive to show mothers scans of the baby living in their womb. If they then go and have an abortion, I seriously doubt that showing them gory photos of abortions would stop them. Someone who has so alienated their mercy to the extent that will kill the child in their womb, I doubt would be deterred by the sight of the resultant mess.

Albert said...

Indigomyth,

You may be right on all counts! Certainly, there are good grounds for thinking abortion clinics are not telling women the truth of what is done. A C4 documentary provided abundant evidence of that. The abortion industry seems to be driven by political and economic interests, not the real interests of the mother - let alone the child.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//The abortion industry seems to be driven by political and economic interests, not the real interests of the mother - let alone the child.//

Well quite. It is the same case with most of every industry - they promote the best, and disguise the worst. It strikes me rather like the tobacco industry voluntarily telling less than the truth about the effects of smoking. However, people will ignore the damage it does them, and will continue smoking. Or will ignore the higher risk of disease associated with homosexual activity, and still actively engage in it. It is unfortunate that people engage in those latter acts without awareness of the potential health consequences, but at least they are only directly harming themselves. It is deeply sad that in the case of the abortion I child must die from the mercilessness of a woman. Adoption is a wonderful thing - a great gift to a deprived couple, and the potential for a full life to another person.

Longrider said...

Actually, there isn’t.

And that is the crux of the matter. We have been subjected to the professionally aggrieved for so long that people have lost sight of what free speech means. It means that people say things that others will find distasteful, offensive or disturbing. If it is to mean anything at all, it means being able to tell people what they would rather not hear - or in this case, see.