Sammy Wilson has said that he has found himself in the unlikely position of supporting a campaign supported by the Christian Institute, gay rights lobbyists and the National Secular Society. The East Antrim MP has said that he supports the campaign ‘Reform Section 5’, organised by the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society and supported by figures such as Peter Tatchell. The campaign aims to make changes to the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws words or actions that others may find insulting and are likely to cause offence.
Sammy Wilson said:
“I am pleased to lend my support and that of my party to the campaign to reform section five of this act which is a restriction on freedom of speech in this country. Under this act, people are breaking the law if they say or do anything that is considered insulting and likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
This law is being used to prohibit people from expressing their beliefs. We live in nation with many different people of different religions and different views. People want to express those views and at times others may find them insulting. But as the law currently stands, even if it is not your intent to insult others, you can still be brought before the courts for what you say. This is not how we should operate in a free society.
Sadly this law has been used by lazy police officers in cases which can only be described as absurd. In 2008 a sixteen year old boy was arrested for holding a placard saying that Scientology was a dangerous cult. In 2006, a student was arrested after he said to a police officer ‘Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?’ Also in that year another sixteen year old was arrested and taken to court for saying ‘woof’ to a Labrador. This is an absurd waste of police time and this law has been used too liberally.
In 2009, over 18,000 people were arrested under section five.
I am glad that 62% of MPs agree that this needs to change and I was pleased to attend the launch of this campaign today in Westminster and pledge my support. This is nothing more than a basic call for freedom of speech and the unlikely alliance which has come together to campaign for the reform of this law demonstrated the broad support this exists for change.
I look forward to pushing for this to be debated in the House of Commons and to get removed from the statute book.
People should have the right to free speech and to protest and I suspect that this legislation has already had a chilling effect which many people afraid to say things in public for fear of getting a criminal record.
Free speech is a fundamental right in a democratic society, but as things stand we do not have that without fear of prosecution.”