In March 2023, the Home Secretary published a draft Code of Practice on the recording and retention of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (NCHIs). The guidance was produced following repeated failures by the British Police to uphold the right to freedom of expression, as defined in the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as common law. We welcome this new Code of Practice, but it won’t by itself solve the problem of the police over-recording NCHIs. It says the police must have ‘due regard’ for the laws protecting free speech in England and Wales when deciding whether to record an NCHI against someone’s name, but unfortunately the police have next to no idea what those laws are.
The Free Speech Union (FSU) submitted freedom of information (FoI) requests England and Wales’s 41 police forces to assess how well they understand the legal protections surrounding freedom of expression. We found that a majority of police forces conduct almost no training on free speech, while a disproportionate amount of police time is spent on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training. (See this report of our findings in the Times.) The absence of proper training on freedom of speech partly explains why the police have consistently neglected Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as common law speech protections, when investigating and recording NCHIs.
Of the 41 forces we contacted, nine failed to respond within the statutory deadline or notified us that their response was indefinitely delayed, 10 provided us with partial information, and 22 answered in full.
We asked these police forces to send us copies of any policies or training materials they held concerning their duty to comply with Article 10. Thirty-two forces answered this question, seven of whom declined to answer on cost grounds. Of the remaining 25, 11 claimed to hold no information on the duty to comply with Article 10. Eight provided information showing that Article 10 was mentioned in training no more than once, often just as a single line definition. Six forces acknowledged that Article 10 should be covered in training somewhere but could not specify where, or supplied information that proved to be irrelevant, containing no information about Article 10.
This means that 78% of the police forces who responded to our requests are providing no training on Article 10, or inadequate training. The remainder did not answer the question.
Thirty-two forces also answered a question asking for details of the training carried out in relation to EDI. One force claimed to hold no information on the subject and a further four stated that EDI was so highly integrated into every aspect of their training that it would exceed the cost limit of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to extract the necessary information. Fourteen forces described EDI as a “golden thread” running through every part of their training or reported that EDI was integral to standard training. This means that for 56% of the police forces we surveyed, EDI is inextricably embedded in police training.
We asked police forces whether they collaborated with external third-party providers to deliver EDI training. Thirty-two forces answered this question. Sixteen (50%) said they collaborate with at least one third-party provider to deliver EDI training and Essex Police reported they had paid £193,000 to third-party provider Pearlcatchers to deliver EDI training. However, police involvement with Stonewall is declining. Only five police forces reported they were currently members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. A further nine forces reported that their LGBT+ Staff Networks were involved in the delivery of EDI training. The activities of Police LGBT+ Staff Networks are not subject to the FoIA and the organisational structure of the individual networks and their coordinating national body, the National LGBT+ Police Network, make it almost impossible to scrutinise what their input into police training is. A survey of the National LGBT+ Police Network social media accounts suggests they are highly influenced by critical social justice ideology, such as Critical Race Theory and Gender Identity Ideology.
If Suella Braverman is serious about wanting to rein in the police’s nasty habit of recording NCHIs against anyone accused of saying something politically incorrect, it is essential that England and Wales’s 41 police forces receive proper free speech training.
- Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF)
- Article 19
- The Campaign for Free Speech
- Fair Cop
- The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)
- Free Speech Champions
- The Free Speech Club
- Heterodox Academy
- The Institute of Public Affairs
- The National Association of Scholars
- Scholars at Risk Network
- Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (Canada)
Contact the FSU
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Help: If your right to free speech is being infringed or you are being penalised in some way for exercising your lawful right to free speech please email [email protected].
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The Free Speech Union
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