Insulting Offences

It is odd how many states feel it necessary to have laws that prohibit the insulting of the state in one form or another. In the United States it was an offence to desecrate the flag, which included burning it or flying it upside down until the Supreme Court decided that such offences were contrary to the the First Amendment of the Constitution which protects free speech. There are always attempts to change to constitution to make flag desecration an offence, and these attempts have so far failed. It is odd why anyone should want to make this kind of act an offence.

In Kuwait (remember the nation whose existence was secured by the Western Democracies who went to war against Iraq) it is an offence to insult the Emir. This kind of offences is the law in many states, whether democracies or autocracies.

There are also pseudo offences which do not usually result in any criminal prosecution but result in (usually) career ending consequences. These include insulting gays, disabled people, Jews, the State of Israel, and some other selected ethnic groups. No such consequences flow to those who insult some ethnic groups, like the Welsh, the Irish and the Greeks.

In England, Section 5 of the Public Order Act states

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

(2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

The legislature voted last December to remove the word “insulting” from the section, and rightly so. Surely we are not all so precious that we cannot bear a few insults from time to time.