The Urgent Need to Teach the Police About Free Speech

Carrie Clark


In March 2023 the British Government released 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 Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to freedom of expression, and as a result of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Miller v College of Policing (2021), which found that the College’s guidance on NCHIs had led to an interference in Miller’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Free Speech Union (FSU) used freedom of information (FoI) requests to assess how well the British Police understand freedom of speech. We found that a majority of police forces conduct almost no training on freedom of speech while a disproportionate amount of police time is spent on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training. Partly as a result, the police have neglected Article 10, as well as common law free speech protections, when investigating and recording NCHIs.

We submitted FoI requests to all 41 English and Welsh police forces, excluding the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and Ministry of Defence Police. Nine forces failed to respond within the statutory deadline or notified us that their response was indefinitely delayed, 10 forces provided partial information, and 22 answered in full.

We asked British 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 training 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. Police involvement with Stonewall is, thankfully, 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.

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