1 - Public Order Act:
S5 of the POA makes it a criminal offence for a person (A) to:
- use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or
- behave in a disorderly way, or
- display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting...
There are a few of defences; if both A and B are in A's home, if A reasonably believes that B won't see/hear etc. the stuff, or if A's conduct is "reasonable."
It also gives the police the power to arrest on the spot anyone they believe to have breached this and continues to do so after being warned.
The consultation document gives 7 examples of when this power has been used (successfully or otherwise) on pages 8-9, which are worth a look through.
It should be noted that s4A makes it a different offence to do any of this *intending* to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress. The s5 offence is only for "accidental" insulting. In theory, it would also cover posting things on the Internet.
The Government are looking into whether or not to remove the word "insulting" from the offence, leaving it to just threatening or abusive stuff. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.
2 - Power to remove face coverings
S60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is the current "stop and search" power. It means a senior officer can put in place an order for specific place/time allowing the police to stop and search anyone without reasonable suspicion.
s60AA extends this power to allow a police officer to remove and seize "any item which [he] reasonably believes that person is wearing wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing his identity." This covers masks, scarves, general face-coverings etc. In addition, a senior officer can issue an order like the s60 one but only for the removal of face-coverings.
The government is seeking to broaden this power by removing the requirement for authorisation from a senior officer. They're also looking at increasing the penalty for non-compliance (it is currently 1 month in prison).
3 - Power to impose curfews
At the moment the police have very limited powers to remove people from places; there is a general dispersal power, requiring consent from the local authority, and a specific one for alcohol-related incidents. The government are looking to expand this by creating:
- A general curfew power, allowing the police to ban all people from an area, and
- the power to add a specific curfew order to cautions (making a breach of curfew likely to result in a prosecution for the original offence).
In my personal opinion:
- I agree with removing "insulting" from s5 (and s4A) and possibly scrapping s5 altogether. I'm not convinced that in a modern/civilised society insulting someone should ever be a criminal offence.
- I strongly object to s60 as it is (logically it exists only to allow police to stop and search people when doing so is unreasonable...), but on s60AA, I don't see the need to give the police any more powers than they already have - forcing people to remove masks, face-coverings etc. seems to be a breach of privacy etc. in any case, whether there's a senior police order or not.
- I may be a bleeding-liberal, but this entire issue seems someone shocking to me. Short of a national crisis (on the scale of a large-scale, contagious outbreak) I can see no reason why the police should ever have a general power to force people off the streets (and even then, I have doubts). The targeted curfews (attached to cautions) seem to be a rather condescending way for the government to seem "tough on youth crime" while avoiding any of the real issues behind it.