A campaign called ‘Feel Free to Annoy Me’ has been launched to take a stand against certain amendments coming into a government bill on anti-social behaviour that would seriously hurt free speech.
The alliance of civil liberty organisations and the Christian Institute have warned that the changes to the rules on anti-social behavioural orders could see pastors and other street preachers charged with offences in the same way that teenage thugs and bullies are treated.
Under Clause 1 of the new anti-social behaviour bill, ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) would be replaced by Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs).
According to the government, IPNAs are designed to be easier to obtain by the authorities and also require a lower threshold of evidence.
However, as argued by former chief prosecutor Lord Macdonald QC, the safeguards in the proposals are ‘shockingly low’ and could carry a host of unforeseen consequences.
He said while some people might think street preachers were a nuisance, allowing them to fall into a category that could see them arrested was against their fundamental human rights.
During a debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Mallalieu QC claimed the clauses would restrict freedom of speech, a ‘civil liberty very precious to us’. She said, ‘It is often through freedom of expression that society is changed for the better’.
Simon Calvert, Director of the Reform Clause 1 campaign group, said, ‘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, protestors, carol singers, street pastors — even people simply expressing strong opinions in public — could be classed as annoying and hauled before the courts’.