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Free speech and its limitations

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Prof Wind Up Merchant
1386209.  Wed Jul 28, 2021 7:15 am Reply with quote

Am I still allowed to go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and shout "BORIS JOHNSON YOU C***!!!"?

 
crissdee
1386214.  Wed Jul 28, 2021 8:08 am Reply with quote

IANAL but I think public order/breach of the peace type stuff would apply here.

 
suze
1386217.  Wed Jul 28, 2021 9:17 am Reply with quote

In principle that's right, but in practice calling Mr Johnson that name in public is unlikely to get you arrested.

Once upon a time, the use of "obscene and profane language to cause annoyance" was considered a public order offence in and of itself. The last couple of attempted prosecutions under this head have failed though. To prove the offence, it is necessary for a police officer to hear your "obscene and profane language" - the police will not attend if you call them up and complain that suze just said a rude word - and police officers have heard it all before, or so it was held.

Whether calling Mr Johnson a rude name would be likely to occasion a breach of the peace has to be doubtful. Public figures too have heard it all before, and is it really very likely that a crowd would come to fisticuffs just because you said something not very nice about a divisive public figure?

One offence which is certainly not committed by calling Mr Johnson that name on these forums is libel. If you alleged that Mr Johnson did specific bad things and this wasn't true then there might be a case to answer, but "mere vulgar abuse" is never libelous.

 
dr.bob
1386346.  Fri Jul 30, 2021 9:22 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
To prove the offence, it is necessary for a police officer to hear your "obscene and profane language" - the police will not attend if you call them up and complain that suze just said a rude word - and police officers have heard it all before, or so it was held.


This reminds me of something I've been wondering about for a while now. I had the misfortune to watch one of those interminable cable-TV shows which follow police officers around as they deal with miscreants. During the episode there were several instances where people who were obviously drunk, though not massively disorderly, were being questioned by the police. At some point, the drunk person would let slip some profanity, at which point one of the officers would say "Ah ha! Swearing at a police officer is an offence, so you're nicked!" and drag them away in the back of a van.

Ever since I've been wondering whether that really is an offence, or if the police were just inventing an excuse to drag this person off to the cells to sleep it off and avoid them making a nuisance of themselves.

 
suze
1386356.  Fri Jul 30, 2021 12:15 pm Reply with quote

A bit of both!

I have several sources (example) for the use of "obscene and profane language" being an offence. None of these sources cite the Act which is being contravened, but if it's an offence at common law then this isn't a problem. (For instance, there is no Act which says in black and white that murder isn't allowed - but it's an offence at common law.)

But as noted, recent prosecutions for the supposed offence have failed - and it's highly unlikely that a drunk carted off to the police station will actually go to court charged with this and this alone.

So yes, in those instances it's being used as an excuse when they want to arrest a person for something. When Boris Johnson was Mayor of London he once opined that the offence ought to be specifically enshrined in law and enforced, but he has not pursued the matter as Prime Minister.

 

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