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Is the Public Order Act 1986 draconian and a breach of civil liberties? Watch

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    Notably, Section 5 of the Act:

    (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

    (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
    Note that no prior warning is required beforehand. Essentially, this means that you could shout one profanity in a city centre on a night out and be arrested under Section 5 - if charged you could face up to 6 months in prison and a criminal record.

    Should we really be criminalising the use of profanities? Don't get me wrong, I agree that someone who shouts "I am going to ****ing knife you" in public should be arrested, as that's threatening language. But, the other terms used under Section 5 such as "insulting" are very broad indeed. Does this provide the police with too much discretionary power? Should the Act make a distinction between an excitable, drunk person using the odd profanity on a night out and someone who is being aggressive and continually using abusive language?
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    If you throw profanities at people then you should be prepared to face the consequences. Since people lack basic understanding of laws, how they work, and why we have them, the full-force of the law should be thrown back at them. There needs to be no distinctions. It is quite simple: you break the law, you must be punished.
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    (Original post by storna)
    Notably, Section 5 of the Act:



    Note that no prior warning is required beforehand. Essentially, this means that you could shout one profanity in a city centre on a night out and be arrested under Section 5 - if charged you could face up to 6 months in prison and a criminal record.

    Should we really be criminalising the use of profanities? Don't get me wrong, I agree that someone who shouts "I am going to ****ing knife you" in public should be arrested, as that's threatening language. But, the other terms used under Section 5 such as "insulting" are very broad indeed. Does this provide the police with too much discretionary power? Should the Act make a distinction between an excitable, drunk person using the odd profanity on a night out and someone who is being aggressive and continually using abusive language?
    Never known anyone to be arrested for it tbh. Most of the time the Police do warn you not to swear at least in my experience. Can't see them sending anyone to prison for it ether
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    (Original post by Aj12)
    Never known anyone to be arrested for it tbh. Most of the time the Police do warn you not to swear at least in my experience. Can't see them sending anyone to prison for it ether
    You never watched night cops or some other police program where they deal with drunk fools? They arrest people all the time under section 5 of the public order act, though they usually get an 80 quid fine.

    in response to the OP, I don't see it as draconian or a breach of my civil liberties, why should you have the right to go round using language or behaviour that upsets others? Oh and I think if you threaten to knife someone youre committing the offence of assault. I'm sure one of the legal eagles on here will know the law around that though.
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    I think it's fair enough, if you're willing to use threatening and abusive language then you should put up with being warned/cautioned.
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    (Original post by moonkatt)
    in response to the OP, I don't see it as draconian or a breach of my civil liberties, why should you have the right to go round using language or behaviour that upsets others?
    Why not? Firstly, it's not causing anyone any harm to say things to them; secondly, the emotional impact of what you say to people depends entirely on their mindset and not yours. It's impossible to tell what someone might find 'insulting'.

    Anyway, some people deserve to be insulted and offended.
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    (Original post by L i b)
    Why not? Firstly, it's not causing anyone any harm to say things to them; secondly, the emotional impact of what you say to people depends entirely on their mindset and not yours. It's impossible to tell what someone might find 'insulting'.

    Anyway, some people deserve to be insulted and offended.
    So you wouldnt mind someone using vulgar language around toddlers then?
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    (Original post by moonkatt)
    So you wouldnt mind someone using vulgar language around toddlers then?
    Yes, I would mind, but I don't think it should be a criminal offence. Most issues of etiquette aren't enforced by the law.
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    (Original post by Martyn*)
    If you throw profanities at people then you should be prepared to face the consequences. Since people lack basic understanding of laws, how they work, and why we have them, the full-force of the law should be thrown back at them. There needs to be no distinctions. It is quite simple: you break the law, you must be punished.
    The problem here is that Section 5 criminalises using profanities that are not targeted at anyone. The police can and do arrest people for simply swearing out loud on a night out. Technically, if I just shouted "****" loudly on a night out - I could be arrested on the spot. Whether a policeman would be so zealous depends on individual mentality - but I don't believe the police should have such discretionary power.
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    (Original post by storna)
    The problem here is that Section 5 criminalises using profanities that are not targeted at anyone. The police can and do arrest people for simply swearing out loud on a night out. Technically, if I just shouted "****" loudly on a night out - I could be arrested on the spot. Whether a policeman would be so zealous depends on individual mentality - but I don't believe the police should have such discretionary power.
    You'd be hard pressed to get arrested for Section 5 Public Order for swearing without a verbal warning first. The Police will use their discretion to ask you to pack it in, rather than cart you off down the cells for swearing in the first instance.
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    (Original post by Mad Vlad)
    You'd be hard pressed to get arrested for Section 5 Public Order for swearing without a verbal warning first. The Police will use their discretion to ask you to pack it in, rather than cart you off down the cells for swearing in the first instance.
    Again, it depends on the mentality of the individual officer - and I don't like that (too discretionary). It somewhat flies in the face of the rule of law and has a danger of, for example, an officer arresting a person under Section 5 without warning and for simply shouting a swear word because they dislike them.

    It should either be - arrest people on the spot for swearing out loud in breach of Section 5 (which would put the provision under scrutiny as that's draconian and flies in the face of freedom of speech) or qualify the provision so that a warning must be given in all circumstances (not up to the individual officer as to whether he gives one or not) and distinguish between a drunk shouting a few swear words not targeted at anyone and someone who is being threatening and abusive to bystanders.
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    (Original post by storna)
    Again, it depends on the mentality of the individual officer - and I don't like that (too discretionary). It somewhat flies in the face of the rule of law and has a danger of, for example, an officer arresting a person under Section 5 without warning and for simply shouting a swear word because they dislike them.

    It should either be - arrest people on the spot for swearing out loud in breach of Section 5 (which would put the provision under scrutiny as that's draconian and flies in the face of freedom of speech) or qualify the provision so that a warning must be given in all circumstances (not up to the individual officer as to whether he gives one or not) and distinguish between a drunk shouting a few swear words not targeted at anyone and someone who is being threatening and abusive to bystanders.
    But that's my point, they do just give you a verbal warning in the first instance. It's pretty universal. Why waste time legislating this when it's just common sense for the officer to do it?
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    (Original post by Mad Vlad)
    But that's my point, they do just give you a verbal warning in the first instance. It's pretty universal. Why waste time legislating this when it's just common sense for the officer to do it?
    Because not all officers are infallible, and there needs to be consistency and equality before the law.
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    (Original post by storna)
    Because not all officers are infallible, and there needs to be consistency and equality before the law.
    Disagree. There needs to be flexibility and discretion built into policing. Guidelines are better than rules, particularly for minor offences. Context is a very important consideration when dealing with any situation.
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    (Original post by Mad Vlad)
    Disagree. There needs to be flexibility and discretion built into policing. Guidelines are better than rules, particularly for minor offences. Context is a very important consideration when dealing with any situation.
    Consider these hypothetical scenarios:

    Person A in Bristol city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 1 not particularly liking the look of Person A and in a bit of a bad mood that evening decides to arrest him under Section 5 on the spot, without warning.

    Person A in Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 2 thinking that Person A is just a bit merry and excitable decides to informally ask Person A to watch his language.

    I don't think, in a lot of cases, it's up to context at all - but the personality of the officer. I think everyone should receive the same treatment regardless of the officer in front of them - and statute should enforce this to maintain equality before the law.
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    (Original post by storna)
    Consider these hypothetical scenarios:

    Person A in Bristol city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 1 not particularly liking the look of Person A and in a bit of a bad mood that evening decides to arrest him under Section 5 on the spot, without warning.

    Person A in Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 2 thinking that Person A is just a bit merry and excitable decides to informally ask Person A to watch his language.

    I don't think, in a lot of cases, it's up to context at all - but the personality of the officer. I think everyone should receive the same treatment regardless of the officer in front of them - and statute should enforce this to maintain equality before the law.
    In my experience, even the most Hitler-ish police officers will always give a warning. Your argument gains little traction with me, I'm afraid.
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    (Original post by storna)
    Consider these hypothetical scenarios:

    Person A in Bristol city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 1 not particularly liking the look of Person A and in a bit of a bad mood that evening decides to arrest him under Section 5 on the spot, without warning.

    Person A in Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night. In a drunk outburst shouts "****ing hell I feel wasted". Officer 2 thinking that Person A is just a bit merry and excitable decides to informally ask Person A to watch his language.

    I don't think, in a lot of cases, it's up to context at all - but the personality of the officer. I think everyone should receive the same treatment regardless of the officer in front of them - and statute should enforce this to maintain equality before the law.
    Coincidentally, I've had cause elsewhere to actually read the statute on this and you'll find that it is actually legislated:

    5 Harassment, alarm or distress.

    (1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

    (b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
    (2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

    (3)It is a defence for the accused to prove—

    (a)that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or

    (b)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or

    (c)that his conduct was reasonable.

    (4)A constable may arrest a person without warrant if—

    (a)he engages in offensive conduct which a constable warns him to stop, and

    (b)he engages in further offensive conduct immediately or shortly after the warning.


    (5)In subsection (4) “offensive conduct” means conduct the constable reasonably suspects to constitute an offence under this section, and the conduct mentioned in paragraph (a) and the further conduct need not be of the same nature.

    (6)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
    Section 5, Paragraph 4 of The Act states that the person can be arrested if the officer warns him and the person continues this behaviour after the warning.
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    No, the law is fine as it is. If anything, I would like to see police be a little bit less lenient when it comes to the enforcement of this law. I've seen coppers put up with some pretty foul stuff.
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    (Original post by Mad Vlad)
    Coincidentally, I've had cause elsewhere to actually read the statute on this and you'll find that it is actually legislated:

    Section 5, Paragraph 4 of The Act states that the person can be arrested if the officer warns him and the person continues this behaviour after the warning.
    See the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 - it removed the statutory warning.
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    (Original post by Mad Vlad)
    But that's my point, they do just give you a verbal warning in the first instance. It's pretty universal. Why waste time legislating this when it's just common sense for the officer to do it?
    Not if your black.
 
 
 
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