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Should swearing be banned in public? Salford City Council says it will fine those using bad language

A council in England has banned swearing in a public space as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

Salford City Council, outside Manchester, have brought in a Public Space Protection Order in a bid to ban “foul and abusive language” in the Salford Quays development.

It will be a criminal offence to use bad language and anyone who is caught will face an on the spot fine of up to £1,000.

But the order, which has been in place since August 2015, does not define what is and is not “foul and abusive language”.

Human rights group Liberty said that this could ‘have a chilling effect on freedom of expression” and they have written to the council to express their concerns.

They have asked the council a number of questions about implementing the order including whether language has to be both foul and abusive to breach the PSPO.

They also asked what legal test will be applied to determine whether language is foul and/or abusive and 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?

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “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.”

They are particularly concerned about the effect the order will have on artistic performers and political activists in the Salford Quays area – which encompasses the renowned Lowry theatre.

Well-known comedian and activist Mark Thomas is due to perform at the venue next week and intends to encourage his audience to join him in a number of artistic and political activities after the show in the area outside.

He is concerned that he is unable to predict whether he or any audience member will be in breach of the PSPO – and therefore committing a criminal offence – by participating in his planned activities.

Mr Thomas has prepared a list of words which he may wish to use and which he intends to send to Salford City Council to seek specific guidance on whether or not they will breach the PSPO.

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