Free to Disagree letter to the Justice Secretary

Free To Disagree

Friday 21 August 2020

Dear Mr Yousaf,

We don’t doubt the Government’s good intentions in bringing forward the Hate Crime Bill. It’s an awful thing to be a victim of crime – especially one motivated by personal hatred. However, we do have grave reservations about the draft ‘stirring up of hatred’ provisions in Part 2.

We are, of course, not alone. The outpouring of anxiety about Part 2 in the last two months has been overwhelming. Our own campaign includes individuals on the left and the right, liberals, conservatives, and religious and secular groups. Others who have spoken out include creatives, LGBT activists, lawyers, feminists, academics, journalists, and rank and file police officers.

Criticism has focused on the lack of a requirement to prove intent to stir up hatred, and on the ‘abusive’ limb of the offence, as well as the absence of suitably robust free speech clauses. Then there is the difficulty of defining – to a criminal law standard – what ‘hatred’ actually is. 

Some of us were involved in the successful campaign to amend the religious stirring-up offence brought in by Westminster in 2006. At that time, the SNP were our allies, voting on what was an ostensibly England-only bill to help us secure a radical rewrite, pinning the threshold back to ‘threats’ and ‘intent’, and also inserting a wide-ranging and very robust free speech clause.

Despite all the political capital currently being expended, it is not at all clear why the new stirring-up offences are necessary. The Government has never explained what will be made illegal by this Bill that is not already caught by existing offences. Indeed, the Financial Memorandum accompanying the bill says (emphasis added):

  • 26. …The new offences will more accurately define the conduct in question (which is a key policy driver for creating them), but it is the case that the conduct in question would already constitute existing criminal offences such as breach of the peace or threatening or abusive behaviour
  • 72. …creating new offences relating to stirring up hatred under sections 3(2) and 5(2) involving hatred based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics (and any new characteristic of sex) is not likely to result in a large number of additional cases being dealt with by COPFS. 

However, in Parliament on 20 August, you said the bill was about “ensuring that sufficient protection is provided” and that you would “make sure that bill is effective”. This appears to contradict the Memorandum. Either the bill extends the reach of the criminal law or it does not. Of course, the reality is that Part 2 does, indeed, extend the reach of the law – and extends it far too much.

Rather than introducing wide-ranging and unpredictable stirring-up laws, with all the attendant risk and controversy, we suggest that you instead bolster the implementation of laws already on the statute book.

You would be commended for acknowledging the problems with Part 2 of the Hate Crime Bill and abandoning the ‘stirring up’ offences. Without these controversial provisions, other aspects of the bill would achieve broad support.  

Yours sincerely,

Members of the Free to Disagree campaign:

Jim Sillars 

Stephen Evans, CEO, National Secular Society

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director, The Christian Institute

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research, Adam Smith Institute

Stuart Waiton, lecturer in criminology, Abertay University

Emma Webb, Director, FIDE at Civitas 

Maddy Kearns, journalist

Jamie Gillies, Free to Disagree spokesman

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