06:56, March 08 885 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-08 06:56:04
Rochdale council plans to ban swearing

A council leader has defended plans to ban swearing in his town after free speech advocates said the £80 fines levied as punishment would breach people’s human rights.

Rochdale borough council in Greater Manchester wants to introduce a public spaces protection order, which could see anyone caught “using foul and abusive language’” warned, moved on or given an on-the-spot fine.

Begging, “loitering”, anti-social parking, playing loud music, loudly revving car engines, street drinking, unauthorised charity collections and skateboarding could also be banned under the move, while under-18s could be barred from the town centre between 11pm and 6am.

Laraten Caten, legal officer for Liberty, told the Manchester Evening News that the plans would be difficult to enforce and could criminalise vulnerable people: “These proposals would unjustifiably curb the rights and freedoms of Rochdale residents.

“The swearing ban is so vaguely defined, it would prove impossible for anyone to know whether they were breaking the law or not, while a blanket ban on begging will criminalise some of the most vulnerable people in the town.”

Councillor Richard Farnell, the leader of Rochdale borough council, retorted: “With all the horrific human rights abuses happening around the world right now, I would have thought Liberty had bigger things to worry about. We are clamping down on a small minority of antisocial ne’er-do-wells who drunkenly shout and swear and harangue shoppers in our town centre.

“I make no apologies for trying to make Rochdale a more welcoming place for people to enjoy and this is supported by the overwhelming majority of local residents. The council is spending £250m transforming Rochdale town centre and we are not going to let a small number of drunken and abusive idiots spoil it for everyone else.

“Offensive and abusive behaviour is already an offence, but police resources are stretched in dealing with this low-level crime. We are working in partnership with them to use our powers to deal with this more effectively.”

The plans, presented to Rochdale council cabinet on Monday, acknowledge that the council “must have regard to articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights, which provide for the right for lawful freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, ensuring that the making of a public spaces protection order is not used to stop reasonable activities where no anti-social behaviour is being committed.”

In August 2015, Liberty accused Salford council of “breaching the right to freedom of expression” after introducing a similar swear ban at Salford Quays.