“It is not an offence known to the laws of England to tell a police officer to fuck off”

I do hope, very much, that that is true.

I certainly believe that directing an Anglo-Saxonism at men and women who have heard if often enough (and in my limited experience of drinking with coppers before one nicked my girlfriend they say it often enough) might be offensive but it\’s not an offence.

But could those of you who know much more law than me confirm this? Most especially, is this an actual treaceable quote (through bailli perhaps) that can be pointed to?

Did an actual judge actually say this? Recordedly?

24 comments on ““It is not an offence known to the laws of England to tell a police officer to fuck off”

  1. Maybe telling a police officer to fuck off is not an offence, but I believe that obstructing the police in their duty is. So if the words are used to imply a refusal to carry out police instructions, you’re nicked matey. And if you’ve had a few too many, you’re drunk and disorderly and nicked again.

  2. From Archbold 2012:

    “(5) Harassment, alarm or distress
    Public Order Act 1986, s.4A
    Intentional harassment, alarm or distress
    4A.—(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress,
    he—
    (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
    (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or
    insulting,
    thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
    (2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public place or a private place, except that
    no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible
    representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or
    distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.
    (3) It is a defence for the accused to prove—
    (a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour
    used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen
    by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
    (b) that his conduct was reasonable.

    Section 5 of the 1986 Act creates lesser oences of a similar, but more generalised, kind, with the
    maximum penalty being a ne not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. There is no requirement to prove a specic intent to cause a particular person harassment, alarm or distress and, correspondingly, there is no need to prove that anyone was caused harassment, alarm or distress. The actus reus will be established if it is proved that the words, behaviour or display were within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused, harassment, alarm or distress, and the mens rea will be established if the requirements of section 6(4) (post, § 29–35) are met. …
    The word “distress” takes its colour from its context. It is one of a trio of words “harassment,
    alarm or distress” which, in combination, give some idea of the mischief at which the legislation is aimed. They are relatively strong words as befits an offence which carries imprisonment or a fine.
    “Distress” requires real emotional disturbance or upset. While the degree of such disturbance or upset need not be grave, it should not be trivialised: R. (R.) v. DPP, 170 J.P. 661, DC (a case on s.4A). R. (R.) v. DPP was considered in Southard v. DPP [2007] A.C.D. 53, DC, where it was said that there was no requirement that the defendant’s act was likely to lead to some kind of real emotional disturbance or upset; such a consequence would amount to “distress”, but “harassment” (which need not be grave, but should also not be trivial) could be experienced without any real
    emotional disturbance or upset. The court also said that there was no rule of law that the offence
    could not be made out if the only person who saw or heard the defendant’s conduct was a police officer.”

    I haven’t consulted recent case law, so it’s possible things have changed in the last year, but I certainly recall as a pupil barrister quite a few years back defending a chap at St Alban’s mags on just this charge where the thin-skinned offended party was a rozzer.

    Depressed yet?

  3. CHF
    Or perhaps they should stay in a bit more, it’s not as if they ever do anything particularly useful when they can find time away from making life awkward for the non criminal.

  4. Well of course it’s not a specific offence to tell a police officer to fuck off. That would be a very silly law.

    Edward Lud has it right, although I’d add the possibility of the common law offence of breach of the peace.

    The question of whether a police office can be harrassed, alarmed or distressed by abusive language has been around for years, and the courts have handed down a number of conflicting judgements. But generally speaking judges have taken the view that police officers can be expected to be more robust in their reactions than the average person, given that their job frequently brings them into contact with challenging situations.

    This doesn’t mean to say that it’s OK for anyone to yell abuse at the police without fear of punishment. That’s an issue for the courts to decide.

  5. I seem to remember a recent case where a judge specifically ruled that police officers could not claim to be distressed, harassed etc by that word as they were too frequently exposed to it.
    Shall try and find chapter and verse.

  6. Are the police part of society or are they somehow different? It was a question that Robert Peel asked and the modern Police don’t seem to want to respond to.

  7. Clovis Sangrail – “I seem to remember a recent case where a judge specifically ruled that police officers could not claim to be distressed, harassed etc by that word as they were too frequently exposed to it.”

    Well I hope someone call him a cunt. Because, after all, judges are also exposed to all sorts of people all the time. So no doubt they would not be offended either. Certainly would not throw someone in prison for contempt.

    This is not an issue over expression or freedom of speech but of contempt for policemen. Who do a tough enough job as it is and should not be called rude words. It is a little bizarre to think that because they are treated contemptuously people should be free to treat them contemptuously. That is like saying that because girls who work behind the bar are used to second hand smoke, it shouldn’t be a crime to expose them to asbestos.

  8. Ltw – “Australian judges have no problem with language, SMFS. ”

    I was in Australia when some lesbian judge threw out charges against a guy for swearing at the police even though she had previously jailed a man for contempt for a rather minor lack of respect.

    So I think it depends on the judge. Some of them certainly don’t think the same rules should apply to them as apply to the police.

  9. From basic training, at Bruche PTC in the early 80s:

    “A police officer is expected to take insults as part of the daily routine.”

    For example, a police officer can only charge a person for offensive language, when it is within the hearing of a third party, who is NOT a police officer.

    PLUS, there are only two words which are considered “offensive; “fuck” and “cunt”, all others are “free”.

  10. Here is a thing! We have a VERY similar “case” here at present.

    A judge has told a police woman that, basically, she needs to grow up, and grow a pair, because some one called her a Fascist, and she booked him.

    Our equivalent of the police federation are going ape shit, but I tend to agree with the Judge.

    People are simply too sensetive these days.

  11. So I think it depends on the judge.

    Of course. I doubt the one I linked to is even the norm. But it’s an entertaining transcript.

  12. “This is not an issue over expression or freedom of speech but of contempt for policemen.”

    Sorry,SMfS, you lose me there. This is wrong?

  13. @SMfS “…treat them contemptuously”.
    First, I was merely attempting to report rather than share my not very important opinion.
    secondly, I very much think that depends on what exactly you mean.
    If you mean “evince their contempt” then I very strongly disagree. This is next to thought crime-a modern British phenomenon which one would have thought they’d been well warned about.

    If you mean by “treat contemptuously” express contempt in such a way as to induce fear or well-founded concern for for one’s well being then I agree.

  14. (3) It is a defence for the accused to prove—
    …(b) that his conduct was reasonable.

    Given their behaviour, having and expressing contempt for the police (as a group) would seem entirely reasonable.

  15. Furor Teutonicus – “For example, a police officer can only charge a person for offensive language, when it is within the hearing of a third party, who is NOT a police officer.”

    So policemen have even fewer rights and can be expected to be treated worse than the rest of us? Are these people insane?

    “PLUS, there are only two words which are considered “offensive; “fuck” and “cunt”, all others are “free”.”

    Call one a gentleman of Pakistani origin in the demotic and you might find there are others.

    16 Furor Teutonicus – “A judge has told a police woman that, basically, she needs to grow up, and grow a pair, because some one called her a Fascist, and she booked him. Our equivalent of the police federation are going ape shit, but I tend to agree with the Judge.”

    I don’t. Policemen do a difficult and dangerous job. For which we ought to be grateful and they ought to be treated with respect. We should not be saying to very feral low life that they can treat the police with less respect than the rest of us just because the police volunteer to do a difficult and dangerous job. Why would a decent person want to be a policeman otherwise?

    “People are simply too sensetive these days.”

    How long would a policeman last if he told members of the public they were f**king c*nts?

    18 Ltw – “Of course. I doubt the one I linked to is even the norm. But it’s an entertaining transcript.”

    Well it is good to see not all Australians are castrated pussies.

    19 bloke in spain – “Sorry,SMfS, you lose me there. This is wrong?”

    Yes it is. Do I really need to explain why?

    20 Clovis Sangrail – “This is next to thought crime-a modern British phenomenon which one would have thought they’d been well warned about.”

    It is not a thought, it is an action. Disrespecting other people in public. Now obviously the police can and do take the respect owed to them too far, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to any at all. If we are to continue to get decent people join the Force, and we don’t these days, it needs to be a job decent people will do. The main problem, imo, is that the Senior Management will not stand up for their lower ranking colleagues, but that aside, if the Courts express such hostility to police that they *encourage* criminals to be routinely rude to the police, no decent person will join the Force. And we will be half way down the road to having a Third rate World World police force.

    And there are community standards. Anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to call a judge a fucking cunt and see what it gets them. Until it is so publicly accepted all judges are happy to be so called in Court, I don’t see why policemen ought to put up with it. What is so special about judges? Same low life scum are involved in both procedures, but they have to stand for the judges.

  16. @SMfS
    Where do I start?
    We live in a society which has abandoned deference. The police are, by Peelian principles , members of the public. They are not “entitled to respect” just as, in my experience, the police do not accord (other) members of the public respect.
    Now, I would like it to be otherwise-I believe a polite society is, other things being equal, a better society. I do not want the police sworn at; I don’t think it’s good, or laughable, or pleasant, or clever, or witty, or nice, or any other positive thing. But I don’t think it should be a crime.
    I don’t believe we are entitled not to be upset by what other people think.

    And to revert to my first comment, my opinion’s not important and the question was “is it not an offence?”, not “is it nice?”, not “ought it to be?” not “why should the police be treated better than the public?” not “what is wrong with the police?”

  17. “19 bloke in spain – “Sorry,SMfS, you lose me there. This is wrong?”

    Yes it is. Do I really need to explain why?”

    Yes, you do.
    I’m quite willing to & do respect the office of the policeman. That doesn’t mean it obliges me to regard or treat the individual policeman with any respect at all. It largely depends on whether he shows his respect of his office as much as I do. Most of the UK police I’ve interacted with, in the past few years, show as much contempt for the office as I do for them.

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