Commission supports proposed change in law to protect free speech

27 November 2012

Commenting on an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill in the House of Lords today, proposing the removal of the word 'insulting' from the Public Order Act, Baroness Onora O'Neill, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'There is evidence that police are using this power to arrest and fine people for exercising their fundamental human right to freedom of expression.'

'Limitations on free speech to deal with offences such as incitement to hatred and violence are clearly necessary. However, a blanket ban on the use of any insulting words or actions is dangerous because it could criminalise anyone who speaks their mind, regardless of their intention.'

'A legal change is vital to protect free speech along with better guidance on equality and human rights, to help police find the right balance between legitimate free speech and taking justifiable action against abusive words or conduct.'

Ends

For further information please contact the Commission's media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

Notes to editors

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act and is recognised by the UN as an 'A status' National Human Rights Institute. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.