Outlawing "annoyance" is Cameron's crassest law
It beggars belief that the Government which (finally) amended Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, thereby restoring the right to be "insulting", should now seek to outlaw "annoyance". If the prohibition on being insulting had a chilling effect on the freedoms of speech and expression, the further censoriousness which will result from the abolition of the right to annoy will be positively glacial.
Today the House of Lords debates the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which seeks to replace ASBOs with IPNAs - Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Disorder. Courts will be free to impose these upon anyone engaging - or threatening to engage - in "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".
The Home Office has said the new injunctions would never be imposed in an unreasonable way.
But, of course, they can give no such assurance.
The outlawing of "insulting" resulted in the arrest of Christian preachers, critics of Scientology, and a student who made a joke about a horse being gay. Laws have unintended consequences, especially when interpreted by over-zealous police officers eager to bend over backwards to please every aggrieved minority.
When is insulting not annoying? What insult is not an annoyance? If you criticise Scientology for being religiously rubbish, or a scientologist for being boneheaded, have you insulted the cult or annoyed the adherent? Why should you be free to engage in the former but not the latter? If you tell a police horse that it "looks gay", have you insulted the horse or annoyed the police officer? Is ridicule of Islam insulting to Muslims? Is not the mere expression of a contrary view to the prevailing orthodoxy going to be an "annoyance" to someone? And what about sarcasm and satire? Are not the concepts of insulting and annoying not borne of the same sensitivities and intolerance? Does that intolerance not impinge upon free expression and free protest?
Is the gospel not annoying? Is preaching Christ crucified not annoying? Are those who proclaim the Good News not a damned nuisance? What authority presumes to limit the freedom of the believer to annoy people in the proclamation of salvation? What legalism may impinge upon the liberty to exhort the repudiation of the world, the flesh and the devil?
The freedom the Christian requires is the freedom to walk in spirit and in truth. The truth can be annoying, and we are no longer free agents if we may not speak it. 'Christ alone' brings the world-order to its fulfilment, and that might annoy those who believe salvation is found in others elsewhere. Our religious liberty is dependent upon the state's ordering of the conditions for free expression - of what must conform and what may disconform; of where we must obey and the extent to which we may rebel.
The Christian will not go out of his way to be annoying or cause a nuisance. But Jesus is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient" (1Pt 2:8). To preach Christ is to cause offence to those who are being lost. To cause offence is to annoy.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act was routinely abused by over-zealous police officers and prosecutors, simply because "insulting" is an undetermined threshold and outrage very much in the mind of the being. And so it is with Clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill: "annoyed" is what one freely chooses to be.
Their Lordships need our prayers today: this odious bill must be amended. Please support the campaign to Reform Clause 1.
The House of Lords voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to this Bill.
Former Chief Constable Lord Dear tabled the amendment to replace the "nuisance or annoyance" threshold with the test of causing "harassment, alarm or distress". Senior lawyers across political parties agreed that IPNAs were a real risk to free speech allowing courts to issue injunctions against those – including street preachers and buskers – who breached political correctness.
The test of causing "harassment, alarm or distress" would protect free speech while still allowing the courts to tackle anti-social behaviour.
Crossbench and Labour Peers, together with Tory rebels, voted against the Government, and Lord Dear’s amendment was passed by a resounding 306 votes to 178.
The Government will now have to decide how to respond.
His Grace would like to thank his readers and communicants for their prayers and support.