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on 1 September 2013
Philip Johnston's short book documents how a series of laws passed in Britain within the last thirty years has eroded free speech. After a potted history of free speech advocacy (taking in Socrates, Milton and Voltaire), Johnston describes how the criminal law is increasingly used to punish people for saying things the authorities don't like. A key step in this process was the passage of Section 5 of the Public Order Act of 1986. This provides that 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.'

Some of the cases that have been brought under this provision are almost beyond words in their stupidity. A Newcastle teenager was prosecuted for growling and barking at two Labradors (the distress required by the Act not being confined to people); a Balliol undergraduate was fined for asking a mounted policeman if he knew his horse was gay; a preacher was fined for holding up the sign: 'Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord'; a drunken Welshman returning from a wedding on a bus was convicted for singing anti-English rugby songs ('I'd rather cut my f****** arm off than be English'); a woman was found guilty of calling her neighbour 'a stupid, fat Australian bitch'. Bizarrely, in this last case the epithet the judge found objectionable was 'Australian' (the neighbour was from New Zealand, and calling her Australian was held to be a racial insult).

These cases cannot be written off as isolated incidents. In 2003 alone, 26,698 people were prosecuted under Section 5, with 18,400 of those being found guilty (source: Hansard, HC Deb, 5 July 2005, c399W). This is not a question of a few prosecutions against unfortunate individuals, but a wholesale assault on the principle of free speech. As Johnston rightly says, 'Section 5 is not needed at all and should be repealed.'

Section 5 by no means the only law to limit free speech in Britain; also notable is the Communications Act 2003, which forbids sending public electronic messages which are 'grossly offensive'. In practice, messages are likely to be found to be unlawful if they are politically incorrect (sexist, racist, homophobic etc.)

When so many crimes of violence are not merely unsolved but uninvestigated, it is appalling that so much police and judicial time is being squandered on prosecuting people merely for their words. Johnston's book is a sobering account of a shameful situation.
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on 4 May 2013
This is a very valuable concise pamphlet on the subject of how dissent from today's norms is not only derided but punished by the laws and by the police. Philip Johnston has done us all a service by exposing the growing problems facing people of nearly all religions and none if they say anything that could be used against them under Section 5 of the Public Order Act or the laws against hate speech, such as the housing worker who had his salary cut by 40% for saying that marriage is between a man and a woman or the Oxford student who spent a night in the cells after asking a police officer if his horse was gay. There are many more examples given. We need to be on our guard. Repealing the above Section 5, as Philip Johnston suggests, would be a good start.
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on 21 December 2015
We are living in a world where people are constantly having to edit their natural responses,having to check their thoughts feelings and their speech.They have to think to themselves all the time "can I say this".

This means the mass thought processes of humans are being shaped and controlled.The general population is being conditioned into a brainwashed stupor.

An illusion is being created that is actually inconsistent with reality.The collective consciousness is being used to create a new reality and people are constantly policing each other and having to observe the public rhetoric to work out what is acceptable to express verbally.

This is a form of mental and emotional enslavement.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 February 2014
No subject is more vital than the increasing threats to our freedom to give voice to ideas and opinions that others may find themselves in disagreement with. Surely this simple belief lies at the heart of our traditions and at the centre of any liberal democratic society.

Two reviews have already drawn close attention to the substance of this book, picking up in some detail the particular cases with which Philip Johnston fleshes out his argument. I think both are valuable; there is no need to repeat the same material here.

What particularly strikes me is the quietly reasoned tone of Johnstone’s presentation of his case, so far removed from the often hysterical emotionalism that has fuelled the growing climate of fear and repression that it would have been difficult to imagine prevailing even a few decades ago. A number of questionable political agendas have been diligently at work, none showing much respect for reason. The roots of the problem lie in the stranglehold that political correctness has taken on society and the craven failure of governments to respond with any incisive counter action.

Few want to see the law stand by in the face of direct incitements to violence, but we have gone a very long way past that principle and arguably the train is accelerating, the brakes rusted. Until enough of those who count in determining these issues, clearly the media every bit as much as the legislature, take to heart Lord Justice Sedley’s: “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”, we move closer all the time to precisely the kind of society that those who support the repression of free speech claim to be attacking.
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on 7 November 2014
How the PC agenda has turned UK into a society where people get regularly banged up for having an unpopular view which 'causes offence'. Once again it is pointed out here that most of the people jailed were jailed unlawfully on police, CPS and judges' misinterpretation of the law.
Extremely worrying and it's getting worse.
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on 12 May 2016
This book highlights the great flight from common sense that has taken place in the UK.
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