Feel free to annoy me

reform clause 1We have previously warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are very happy to support the newly formed Reform Clause 1 campaign which was launched in Parliament yesterday.

The campaign warns that the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will have a “chilling effect on free speech and expression”. We very much hope that this campaign will have the same amount of campaign success as the Reform Section 5 campaign that we backed earlier in the year.

At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.

Simon Calvert, the Reform Clause 1 campaign director, warned that: “Just a few months ago the Government ditched a law criminalising unintentionally insulting words or behaviour. Now they want to criminalise unintentionally annoying words or behaviour. This is a crazy law. It will not deter thugs and hooligans who are normally already breaking lots of other laws anyway. But it will give massive power to the authorities to seek court orders to silence people guilty of nothing more than breaching political correctness or social etiquette.

“It is chilling that there is a complete absence of safeguards and any clear definition of what is deemed to be annoying. What this means in practice is that people going about their ordinary business, such as charity collectors, protesters, carol singers, street pastors – even people simply expressing strong opinions in public – could be classed as annoying and hauled before the courts.”

Peter Tatchell, a member of the campaign, has highlighted areas where IPNAs will affect peaceful protest; explaining his plans to lead a peaceful protest outside the Russian Embassy to highlight the anti-gay legislation in the federation would leave him open to an Ipnas. He said: “What constitutes annoyance is a very subjective judgment. There is a danger that this legislation could be abused to target legitimate freedom of expression that some people might find annoying. Occasionally tolerating a bit of annoyance is a price worth paying in order that we live in a democratic, free and open society. This legislation is too sweeping.”

What is clear is that IPNAs will do little to deter criminals, hooligans and thugs, but will give the authorities a huge amount of power to curtail individuals’ freedoms for doing little other than proving to be a nuisance. This legislation is badly conceived, poorly drafted and naïve in its attempts to tackle criminal behaviour and we hope that you will join us in backing the Reform Clause 1 campaign.