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The Policing Bill will leave free speech in tatters

Boris Johnson once jovially remarked that the creation of ping pong on 19th-century British dining tables was what set Britain apart from the rest of the world. It seems this nation loves ping pong so much that we’ve incorporated it into our legislative process. The controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, debated yesterday in the House of Lords, has been batted back and forth between the parliamentary chambers for months. It’s a match with very high stakes indeed – with freedom of speech on the line.

One of the reasons for the to-and-fro is that neither the Lords nor the Commons have been willing to make any concessions whatsoever. The government has championed the bill as a response to the public outcry at the activities of campaign groups, like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain. The Lords argue that the measures as drafted will not only penalise particularly disruptive activist groups, but normal people exercising their freedom of expression, too.

We’ve been here before. In 2013, the Lords successfully persuaded the Commons to remove the criminalisation of merely ‘insulting’ conduct from the Public Order Act 1986. And in 2014, they defeated the government’s proposals to criminalise conduct ‘capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person’. So this tension isn’t new.

Continue reading “The Policing Bill will leave free speech in tatters” by Jeremiah Igunnubole (Sp!ked).

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