Let me just start out by saying admitting for all the world to hear…I LOVE THE CIVILITY OF BRITISH POLITICS!.
You might remember back in November when we reported on the efforts of Rowan Atkinson taking issue with a particular clause in the Public Order Act of 1986 in Britain.
As Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 read at the time, Edmund Blackadder would have had somewhat of a difficult time formulating a sentence any time Baldrick enters the room. At the center of the controversy was the provision of the Public Order Act of 1986 which considered it illegal to insult people. When you think back to the early days of Rowan Atkinson in Not the Nine O’Clock News, it does seem that, in 2012, life actually does seem to be imitating art.
As brilliantly reported in the Digital Journal, Atkinson, speaking at a reception in the British Houses of Parliament in front of Members of Parliament and Peers (members of the House of Lords), cautioned that criticism, unfavourable comparison or “merely stating an alternative point of view” could, under Section 5 of the Public Order Act as it presently stood, lead to arrest. The star of Not the Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder and Mr. Bean went on to say, “The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view can be interpreted as insult.”
Atkinson, the Blackadder and Mr Bean star led a coalition of campaign groups complaining that the legislation has been abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors to arrest Christian preachers, critics of Scientology, gay rights campaigners and even students making jokes. Stephen Fry, often described in Britain as a ‘national treasure’ and Blackadder co-star, had also lent his support to the campaign by tweeting “Insults aren’t nice. But should they be illegal? Support my friends in removing ‘insulting’ from public order act.”
This just in – Ministers uphold concept of ‘free speech’
Ministers agreed to scrap a law outlawing ‘insulting words or behavior’ last night following months of review of the ‘free speech’ campaign led by Atkinson. Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday that the government would ditch the contentious words from the Public Order Act amid fears that they are strangling free speech.
Mrs May told the Commons that the word ‘insulting’ would be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, as part of the Crime and Courts Bill. She told MPs: “Looking at past cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions could not identify any where the behaviour leading to a conviction could not be described as “abusive” as well as “insulting”. e has stated that the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions. We will issue guidance to the police on the range of powers that remain available to them to deploy in the kind of situations I described, but the word “insulting” shall be removed from Section 5.”
Civil liberties campaigners welcomed the decision as expected. Tory MP David Davis said: “I welcome this sensible decision by the Home Secretary. The only effect of this law was to chill public debate and depress freedom of speech.“. Somewhere, Edumund Blackadder is smiling….