Who should decide whether the expression of beliefs and ideas is annoying?
Do we really need the police and the courts to deal with incidents of annoyance? Should we not just accept that the risk of feeling annoyed is a fair price to pay for living in a society which values free speech?
Annoyance is unpleasant
We would all like to see a lot less of it. But who should decide whether conduct – including the expression of beliefs and ideas – is annoying? Individuals? The police? A judge? Is it really a matter for the courts? It might surprise you to know that under Clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, the police or other public authorities can apply to court for an order against you if someone else might feel annoyed by your conduct.
Should it be a matter for the courts?
Do we really need the police and the courts to deal with incidents of annoyance? Should we not just accept that the risk of feeling annoyed is a fair price to pay for living in a society which values free speech? We think so, and here’s why.
Will you be breaking the law?
“Nuisance and annoyance” are on the way to becoming outlawed by Clause 1, which could have a chilling effect on free speech right across our country, in a wide range of communities. The law rightly protects us against unjust discrimination, incitement and violence. It should not be used to protect us from feeling annoyed. It’s time to put a stop to Clause 1.
About the campaign
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 is currently being scrutinised by the House of Lords. Clause 1 of the Bill sets out to replace ASBOs with IPNAs: Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance.
This is a campaign which brings together people from all walks of life; from the religious to the secular and from right across the political spectrum. The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society have both recognised the need to reform Clause 1 before the Bill passes if we are to guarantee freedom of expression and the right to a good debate.
At best, Clause 1 is the legal embodiment of a well-meaning, but over-zealous bureaucrat, and at worse it is an attempt to silence those who the authorities don’t agree with – be they religious preachers, political activists or protestors.
Freedom of speech
This campaign is about freedom of speech, but it is also about the reach of the law. Should we really rely on the state to protect us from getting annoyed?
Under Clause 1 of the Bill, courts may grant an IPNA against a person if he has engaged in – or threatens to engage in – “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. This is a lower threshold than ASBOs, where the person must have caused, or be likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”.
Also unlike ASBOs, IPNAs do not need to be deemed “necessary” by the courts. They simply need to be considered “just and convenient”.
Last year, the Lords voted to remove “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 because it was too low a threshold for criminal sanction. Criminal sanctions to prevent “annoyance” are arguably even less appropriate.
IPNAS CAN BE APPLIED SO BROADLY, THE MOST UNEXPECTED PEOPLE COULD FIND THEMSELVES LANDED WITH AN INJUNCTION. IMAGINE…
John is a preacher in Trafalgar Square. He tells passers-by that they should trust in Jesus to forgive their sins and lead a life based on kindness and love. He believes he is doing the right thing by making people aware of the teachings of the bible.
But if Westminster Council thinks passers-by could feel ‘annoyed’ by his words, John could have his right to free speech curbed. He could be subject to a court order prohibiting him from preaching in the area.
It’s Christmas Eve and the Churchill choir are about to begin their carol singing round the village to spread good cheer and raise money for charity. Last year they earned £457 and hope to do even better this year.
But if any residents decide they are ‘annoying’, the Parish Council might threaten them with an IPNA, which bans them from singing carols again at Christmas.
In Swinton, the village football pitch borders a row of houses. A group of ten year old boys love playing there on a Saturday. Their shouts of excitement can be heard from the nearby houses.
If the neighbours consider them to be causing ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’ and complain to the council, these ten year olds could be landed with injunctions banning them from playing there. Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance can be served on a person aged 10 or over.
Great Barfield Church Bells
Great Barfield Church has a tradition of bell-ringers that has survived for centuries. The group of eight villagers ring the eight bells every week at 10am for Sunday morning worship and on most Wednesday evenings when they have their weekly practice.
But a couple who recently moved into the Old Vicarage next door have expressed ‘annoyance’ at having their Wednesday evening disturbed. Unless Clause 1 is reformed, they could demand that the council silence the church bells for good.
Under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, Peter Tatchell and members of the LGBT group Outrage! were arrested and charged for shouting slogans and displaying placards that condemned the persecution of LGBT people by Islamic governments. They were campaigning against a rally led by the fundamentalist Muslim group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who called for the killing of gay people, apostates, Jews and unchaste women.
Section 5 was eventually reformed following a successful campaign. But now Clause 1 could be used to silence Peter Tatchell and any other protestor wanting to speak out against violent intolerance.
Last year, Section 5 of the Public Order Act was used to issue a court summons to a 16 year old protestor for peacefully holding a placard that read: “Scientology is not a religion it is a dangerous cult”.
Parliament’s reform of Section 5 will mean such examples are much less likely to take place under that law. But Clause 1 would be a new tool to gag ordinary citizens, under the assertion that they are being ‘annoying’.
The Christian Institute
The Christian Institute exists for “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education”. It is a non-denominational Christian charity committed to upholding the truths of the Bible. We are supported by individuals and churches throughout the UK.
The National Secular Society
The National Secular Society is Britain’s only national organisation working exclusively towards a secular society. Founded in 1866, it campaigns for the separation of religion and state and promotes secularism as the best means to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and cohesively.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation
The Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF) seeks to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, communities and nations, in the UK and internationally, in accordance with established national and international human rights law.
Big Brother Watch
Big Brother Watch was set up to challenge policies that threaten our privacy, our freedoms and our civil liberties, and to expose the true scale of the surveillance state.
The Freedom Association
The Freedom Association is a non-partisan, centre-right, libertarian pressure group. TFA believes in the freedom of the individual in all aspects of life to as great an extent as possible.
The Manifesto Club
The Manifesto Club campaigns against the hyperregulation of everyday life. We support free movement across borders, free expression and free association. We believe that the freedom issues of the twenty-first century cut across old political boundaries, and require new schools of political thought, and new methods of campaigning and organisation.
The New Culture Forum
Since it was formed the New Culture Forum has been challenging the cultural orthodoxies – the dogmatic relativism and liberal presumptions – which remain dominant in the media, academia, education, and British culture in its widest sense. Through our research projects and highly-praised and influential publications, we have contributed fresh right of centre thinking to the public and political debate on the cultural issues of our time.
The Evangelical Alliance is over 165 years old and has seen major historical events and significant changes in culture and society. It has always represented the evangelical community by being its voice and encouraging Christians to take action on behalf of the vulnerable. It encourages its members to stay close to the word of God to help guide those actions.
Email your MP, explaining why you think the police and the courts should not be in the business of protecting us from feeling annoyed.
Points to include:
- Tell your MP you support the House of Lords amendment to Clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
- Explain why you think giving people ASBO-type injunctions for being ‘annoying’ is a danger to civil liberties.
- Ask your MP to raise your concerns with the Government.
- Include your full name and address in your email so your MP can verify that you are a constituent.
Some other points you might want to consider:
- We can’t solve anti-social behaviour by taking away basic civil liberties.
- If people can get a court injunction just for being annoying then no-one is safe.
- Ask why no-one has thought about the risk from over-zealous police officers and council officials who could easily seek an anti-annoyance injunction to silence inconvenient or unfashionable opinions.
- Click here to see what the Government are saying… and why they are wrong.
- Click here for up-to-date news on the campaign.
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