A friend of mine was recently interviewed under caution by the police. His offense? Reading the Bible aloud in a calm voice and steady tone outside a railway station. He was left waiting to hear back for one month and then advised in writing to “be careful with what you say in future when reading outside”. The police were trying to grapple with whether his reading was “abusive” and harassing under the law. The result was chilling.

While nearly all street preacher police cautions and arrests eventually come to nothing, a worrying trend has emerged over the years. The police have seemingly maintained an overly cautious approach to suppressing “potentially offensive” words in public while they take time to interpret the meaning of the law.

At present, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (“PCSC”) Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords in September, will only compound these issues.

A major theme of Part 3 of the PCSC Bill is the interaction of the police and citizens in relation to public demonstrations and protests. Triggered by highly disruptive protests that have been organised around the country in recent months and years, often involving some element of criminal damage, clauses in the Bill aim to give police additional powers to more effectively respond.

Continue reading “Censorship by default” by Elizabeth Francis (The Critic).

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