Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the Home Office (2)

  1.  As you know, the transcript of proceedings on 12 June [paragraph 35] records that the Chairman asked whether there is "something special about Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860 which deals with things which would not be susceptible for handling under Public Order even if we extended it". I undertook to look at it in the light of the Public Order provisions and let the Committee have a note on the subject.

  The general context of the ECJA seems to be that of Creating a disturbance in a sacred (as opposed to any other) place.

  There appears to be a considerable overlap between the provisions of the ECJA and various public order offences. In particular, s.5 POA is broad and general, covering disorderly behaviour as well as threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. It is also possible that offences contrary to s.2 of the ECJA could be prosecuted under the common law as breaches of the peace.

  2.  You also asked that I check the position on private prosecutions for blasphemous libel [paragraph 26]. The position appears to be as follows:

  There does not appear to be anything which would prevent a private prosecution from being brought. The only restriction on both public and private prosecutions is that no prosecution shall be commenced against the proprietor, publisher, editor or any person responsible for the publication of a newspaper for any libel published therein without the order of a judge in chambers. Such an application must give notice to the person accused who shall have an opportunity of being heard (Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 s.8).

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