Following the publication of our Free Speech Union Manifesto last month, we were delighted to see Home Secretary Priti Patel ask the College of Policing to drop its guidance telling officers to record ‘non-crime hate incidents’ on people’s police records. Scrapping this Orwellian practice was the first point in our manifesto. A Home Office source said, “These so-called ‘non-crime hate incidents’ have a chilling effect on free speech and potentially stop people expressing views legally and legitimately. If people are found to have done nothing wrong the police shouldn’t punish them.”
Our Director of Research Dr Radomir Tylecote called for their removal in March, describing how anonymous denunciation was leading to people losing jobs or job offers on the basis of ‘non-crimes’ being placed on their police records as they show-up in enhanced criminal record checks. Case in point: Douglas Kedge, an 85-year-old retired teacher, was told by police that his politely written letter to an anti-abortion campaigner had been recorded as a ‘non-crime hate incident’ after the campaigner filed a complaint against him. He is now concerned he will be prevented from volunteering at his local primary school where he’d planned to help children catchup on the work they’ve missed during the pandemic.
The Times welcomed the Home Secretary’s move with an editorial arguing that “officers should not be tasked with policing the boundaries of public debate”. The news was hailed as a triumph for free speech by our Deputy Director of Research Emma Webb and welcomed by me in the Mail.
Professor Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council wrote in the Spectator, “There is something very creepy about the state demanding that the police log permanently anything people say, however lawful, merely because someone has complained about it.” Gathering intelligence about implicit threats of violence is a legitimate aim, but the existing policy went far beyond that, as the case of Mr Kedge illustrates.
As our supporters will know, we are assisting the ex-policeman Harry Miller in his attempt to have the policy of recording non-crime hate incidents be declared illegal. He is currently awaiting the verdict of the Court of Appeal, having failed to persuade the High Court to declare NCHIs unlawful, as he explained in the Critic. Thanks to all those who’ve contributed to our fighting fund.
Warning over Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan
Earlier this week, Professor Tettenborn wrote on our behalf to Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford to object to proposals contained in the Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan, which is the subject of an ongoing consultation.
We registered our concern about plans for children in Welsh schools to be taught an explicitly ideological approach to race, with concepts like ‘white privilege’ and the existence of pervasive institutional racism in the UK to be taught as fact. These concepts should be rigorously scrutinised and debated, with more than one perspective being taught.
Among other things, the plan pledges to make “acts of micro-aggression” a “thing of the past” by 2030. This, we said, was an ill-defined term and likely to have a seriously detrimental effect on free speech in Wales.
You can read Professor Tettenborn’s letter here. The First Minister’s office has acknowledged our letter and promised to respond shortly.
Success! Ofcom declines to investigate Julia Hartley-Brewer
We wrote to Ofcom earlier this month, urging them to take account of Julia Hartley-Brewer’s right to free speech in its investigation of the 203 complaints it has received about her appearance on ITV’s This Morning on 15 April. Her sin was to make fun of Meghan Merkle, the Duchess of Sussex. (You can read about the brouhaha in the Mail.) Happily, Ofcom replied to our letter saying it had decided not to investigate the matter any further. We will strike that up as another victory for the FSU.
Good luck to the New Zealand Free Speech Union!
We’re pleased to see the launch of an affiliate group in New Zealand – the first of many, we hope. Our sister group’s mission is to “fight for, protect, and expand New Zealanders’ rights for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry. We envision a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones.”
The mission statement continues:
“As a trade union, we will promote members’ collective employment interests with a particular focus on the protection of their freedom of speech from employer interference. If you feel that your job could be placed in jeopardy because of thoughts or opinions you express in your private life, or if you simply want the reassurance of having the support of a community dedicated to defending free speech, then become a member today.”
If you think there’s no need for a Free Speech Union in New Zealand, think again. The Mail on Sunday revealed this week that the Wairarapa book festival has decided to drop its annual Harry Potter children’s quiz following J.K. Rowling’s expression of gender critical views last year. If the creator of our most successful export since James Bond can be declared persona non grata, anyone can.
FSU helps member being investigated by Chartered Insurance Institute
One of our members, an insurance broker, recently became embroiled in a Twitter spat with a woman who’d had a miscarriage and whom he felt was neglecting the impact that losing an unborn child can have on expectant fathers. Complaints were made and he was placed under investigation by the Chartered Insurance Institute. Had his professional body kicked him out, he wouldn’t have been able to earn a living. He reached out to us and we helped him make peace with the offended party, after which the investigation was dropped.
Another minor victory – Leeds drops investigation of FSU member
The University of Leeds has dropped charges against a student and FSU member who was critical of Black Lives Matter in an online class. Other students were offended by his criticism – even though they were mild and expressed politely – and complained to the University, which responded by investigating him for a non-summary offence. If found guilty, the third-year student faced possible expulsion. The FSU wrote a letter to the University on his behalf and, with the help of FSU Legal Advisory Council member Rebecca Butler, the student was fully exonerated after a disciplinary hearing. In its letter to the student informing him of the outcome of the investigation, Leeds affirmed its commitment to free speech and freedom of expression within the law.
New FSU Case Officer – Benjamin Jones
Ben has joined us from a communications job at the University of Oxford. In addition to working on our case team supporting our members, he writes the weekly newsletter and runs our social media accounts. He is completing a PhD on ex-Muslim campaigners in the UK, a group for whom free speech is absolutely critical – and very much under threat.
We’ve had a busy month. In addition to dealing with daily queries from our members, we’ve published a briefing paper on the Government’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill – which we think poses a major threat to free speech – and fired off several letters that you can read in our Blog.