The Law Commission, an unelected quango, has published a 533-page consultation on reforms to “hate crime and hate speech laws”. Its proposals are chilling. The new Bill it wants to bring before the House of Commons is tantamount to an Anti-Free Speech Bill.
The Commission mentions “inflammatory cartoons” in its crackdown plans: “recent incidents involving inflammatory images create grounds for concern… These include Islamophobic cartoons…”
Currently, someone who sends another person an “inflammatory cartoon” can only be prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003. The Commission writes: “This does not carry the same gravity or labelling as the stirring up offences. It does not reflect the fundamental harm involved, which is not that it is offensive, but that it incites hatred.”
The Commission mentions various cartoons, but it is clear its plans include those published in Charlie Hebdo which resulted in 12 people murdered in a terror attack. The Commission calls Mohammed cartoons “infamous”, suggesting “the British media were right not to publish them”. It also suggests the offence of “stirring up hatred” should extend beyond written material, so publishing “inflammatory images” could mean up to seven years in jail.
A conviction for “stirring up hatred” usually requires an intention. The Commission would change this. If a tweet or a cartoon is “likely” to stir up hatred, that could mean seven years in jail.
The law already outlines five “protected characteristics” (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, transgender identity). The Commission wants more, like classifying women – most of the population – as a protected group; it even wants “age” protected.
The Commission wants special legal protection for philosophical beliefs and subcultures, like humanism – even punk rockers. Protecting a philosophy based on rational and limitless inquiry is laughable. As for punks, does a group that’s famous for distrusting state authority really need state protection?
The Commission wants victims of crime to be treated differently depending on whether they’re a member of a “protected” group. This double-standard is at odds with the principle of equality before the law.
The Commission says: “The whole point of hate-crime law… is to educate the public.” But the law does not exist to control people’s opinions, which are no business of the state.
Laws against “hate crimes” are nearly always followed by an increase in the very problem they are meant to tackle – hateful behaviour. We share the Commission’s wish to tackle hateful behaviour, but these proposals will have the opposite effect.
The Commission claims there are “barriers to reporting” hate crimes, but police forces have already established “portals” to help people report fellow citizens for speech crimes.
If the Crown Prosecution Service wants to a prosecute somebody for stirring up hatred it needs the consent of the Attorney General, restricting over-zealous prosecutors. This is a safeguard the Commission wants to get rid of.
Hate speech laws do not currently cover what you say in your own home. The Commission wants to scrap this. If you use words “likely” to “stir up hatred” at the dinner table you could be jailed for up to seven years. In the Soviet Union, totalitarian surveillance made parents fear their own children. This is not the kind of country we want to live in.