Human rights abusers on Salford Council have introduced a Public Space Protection Order to cover the Quays area where it will be deemed a criminal offence if anyone is caught using foul and abusive language .But the order fails to give any guidance on which words will be considered foul and abusive enough to constitute a criminal offence. Anyone breaching the conditions faces an on-the-spot fine.
Comedian Mark Thomas is performing at The Lowry arts centre and has prepared a list of words he intends to use which he is sending to the council – to see if they breach the order.
And now leading human rights group Liberty has written to Salford council saying the move risks breaching right to freedom of expression . Liberty says the order could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Liberty’s Rosie Brighouse has requested clarification on four points:
Does the language have to be both foul and abusive to breach the PSPO, or is its purpose to ban both language that is foul but not abusive, and language that is abusive but not foul?
What is the difference between language that is foul and language that is abusive? What legal test will be applied to determine whether language is foul and/or abusive?
If someone uses foul and/or abusive language in the area covered by the PSPO, but there is no one present to hear it, will that amount to a criminal offence?
This is a staggering example of the misuse of a Public Space Protection Order – so vaguely worded it’s impossible for anybody to know whether they’re in danger of breaking the law.
The right to say what we want should not be restricted at the whim of council officials, able to issue fixed penalty notices on the basis of a poorly defined legal order. Without the freedom to offend, real freedom of expression cannot exist.
Liberty is concerned that, in its current vaguely worded form, the Order will have a ‘chilling effect on artistic performers and political activists in the Salford Quays area – which encompasses the renowned Lowry theatre.