Percy v Director of Public Prosecutions: Admn 21 Dec 2001

The defendant had been convicted of using words or behaviour likely to cause harassment alarm or distress, when she defaced the US flag, and stood on it before a US military officer. She said that the defacing of flags was a common form of protest, that she had no intention to cause alarm or distress, and that any such restriction unjustifiably restricted her right to freedom of expression.
Held: The conviction could not be supported. It was a proper purpose to prevent behaviour which caused insult and distress, and there is a pressing social need in a multicultural society to prevent the denigration of objects of veneration and symbolic importance for one cultural group. Nevertheless, the second stage of the test looked to whether any infringement was a proportionate response. The availability of alternate ways of expressing her feelings was only one factor, and the judge had taken insufficient note of the need to protect freedom of speech.


Lord Justice Kennedy and Mrs Justice Hallett


Times 21-Jan-2002, [2001] EWHC Admin 1125




Public Order Act 1986 5, European Convention on Human Rights Art 10


CitedTexas v Johnson 1989
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CitedThe Sunday Times v The United Kingdom (No 2) ECHR 26-Nov-1991
Any prior restraint on freedom of expression calls for the most careful scrutiny. ‘Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society subject to paragraph (2) of Article 10. It is applicable not only to . .
CitedVigon v Director of Public Prosecutions QBD 9-Dec-1997
Using a hidden video camera, passively to film women in changing rooms, was an act of the camera owner, and constituted the insulting behaviour offence. . .
CitedBrutus v Cozens HL 19-Jul-1972
The House was asked whether the conduct of the defendant at a tennis match at Wimbledon amounted to using ‘insulting words or behaviour’ whereby a breach of the peace was likely to be occasioned contrary to section 5. He went onto court 2, blew a . .
CitedHandyside v The United Kingdom ECHR 7-Dec-1976
Freedom of Expression is Fundamental to Society
The appellant had published a ‘Little Red Schoolbook’. He was convicted under the 1959 and 1964 Acts on the basis that the book was obscene, it tending to deprave and corrupt its target audience, children. The book claimed that it was intended to . .

Cited by:

CitedNorwood v Director of Public Prosecutions Admn 3-Jul-2003
The appellant a BNP member had displayed a large poster in his bedroom window saying ‘Islam out of Britain’. He was convicted of an aggravated attempt to cause alarm or distress. The offence was established on proof of several matters, unless the . .
CitedAbdul and Others v Director of Public Prosecutions Admn 16-Feb-2011
The defendants appealed against convictions for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour . . within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. He had attended a . .
CitedHayes v Willoughby CA 13-Dec-2011
Harassment Occurs on the Result, not the Intention
The claimant said that over several years, the respondent had pursued him in many ways challenging his management of a company’s affairs. Complaints had been investigated by the insolvency service and by the police who had discovered nothing to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Human Rights

Updated: 05 June 2022; Ref: scu.167392