by Chauncey Tinker – 26 Feb 2020
In Part 1 I introduced the campaign. In this post I will outline the first of my campaign objectives, which is broadly speaking to have the word “hatred” removed entirely from UK law. As far as I am aware, the word was first introduced into our law in 1965 in the The Race Relations Act (please let us know in the comments below if you are aware of any earlier occurrences). From the UK Parliament website:
Race Relations Act 1965
The Act banned racial discrimination in public places and made the promotion of hatred on the grounds of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ an offence.
For hundreds of years before then we had managed perfectly well without any laws criminalizing “hatred” (and British Justice was well regarded I believe as one of the fairest justice systems in the world). The question of what exactly constitutes “the promotion of hatred” is obviously highly debatable as the word is subjective.
It may seem to be a bit of a digression to talk here about serious crimes such as violent assault and rape, since this is a series specifically about “de facto hate speech laws”. However it is necessary to take a closer look at the wider concept of “hate crime” in order to challenge the problematic introduction of the word “hatred” into our laws.
Motives have long been considered in sentencing in the UK, for example if a husband had been violent towards a wife and she murdered him, then the judge might decide to reduce her sentence in consideration of the way she had been treated as a mitigating circumstance. Relatively recently a new kind of aggravating circumstance has been introduced into our laws, i.e. if any crime is deemed to have been motivated by hatred then the sentence may be longer, such crimes are now classified as “hate crimes”.
A serious problem with the introduction of the concept of “hate crime” is that it inclines our courts to give disproportionate sentences for what are really very similar crimes. I believe this is leading to inappropriately lenient sentences being given in some cases where hatred cannot be established as a motive, or frankly in some of these cases where the judge is reluctant to acknowledge that hatred was a motive. Take this case for example from the Telegraph (2017):
Asian grooming gang’s rape of white girls not racist, rules judge
Quote describing the judgement:
no direct evidence race had played a part in the gang’s process for selecting the girls
However the article refers to a related case (linked to the gang) where one of the defendants had allegedly said:
“All white women are good for one thing, for men like me to f*** and use as trash, that is all women like you are worth.”
There is growing anger (visible on social media) at the disproportionate sentencing that has been applied in some such cases, these disparities are fueling division in society. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act was supposed to act against division in society, but here we see it having exactly the opposite effect – people begin to feel that the perpetrators’ group is given special privileges under the law. It’s quite hard to believe that racial (or ethnic) hatred was not a motive in most cases where the gangs are overwhelmingly of one ethnicity and the victims tended to be of another, but in some of these cases no doubt there is also a genuine difficulty in establishing “beyond reasonable doubt” that hatred was a factor. Wouldn’t it be better to simply give the same sentences in all cases where the crime e.g. violent assault or rape is of a similar nature, after all surely the most important thing is to protect the public from repeat offences?
Is a violent assault really any less serious if for example it is a case of simply mindless violence as opposed to violence that is deemed to have been motivated by hatred? In last week’s weekly roundup we listed several cases where very violent offences were punished with short sentences, including this case of a completely mindless assault where the offenders are free after less than 5 years in prison, despite the fact that they permanently disabled their victim. From the Mirror:
‘Monsters who left my husband brain damaged are free while we face life sentence’
All but one apparently pleaded not guilty, indicating that they felt no remorse over the attack.
The only cases where disproportionate sentences may be appropriate for similar crimes is where there are mitigating factors (e.g. in a case where the perpetrator was violently abused by the victim), because only in such cases can it reasonably be assumed that there is less risk to the public in general of the perpetrator re-offending. The question of whether the crime is motivated by hatred or not has no bearing on the likelihood of the perpetrator re-offending, and establishing a motive of hatred is in any case very difficult in a great many cases. The very significant difficulty in establishing the presence of hatred as a motivating factor is leading to wildly disproportionate sentencing for similar crimes, the more so as perpetrators are often aware of the law and so may keep their feelings of hatred “under wraps” as it were.
Thanks to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, judges now have extra considerations to make in sentencing decisions, thus those decisions are more difficult. If judges make a decision that many members of the public feel is unfair then the judges themselves become the targets of hostility, a situation that further undermines respect for the law. Judges are in truth complaining of “heavy workload”, and there have been reports of a shortage of judges. From the Guardian (2018):
Judicial shortages pose threat to court system, top judge warns
According to the above article, the Lord Chief Justice has complained of “increasingly heavy workloads”, just one of a number of growing problems causing stress for judges.
Since the introduction of The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 we have seen scope creep, with police forces and other organizations zealously gathering reports of “hate crimes” and “hate incidents”, which have included a lot of cases purely involving speech. This next recent article from the Times states that “3,300 ‘hate incidents’ that involve no criminality” have been logged by Police Scotland alone in the last 5 years:
Offensive jokes logged in ‘non-crime’ databases
Some of the cases that have been prosecuted have been truly ridiculous, take for example this next case, from the Liverpool Echo (2019):
Lawyer slams ‘ridiculous’ case which saw teen prosecuted for Instagramming N-word rap lyrics
This case actually led to a conviction, despite it being clear to any rational observer that the defendant bore no malice and was simply sharing the lyrics of a song that a deceased friend had liked. Thankfully, according to the above article, the conviction was later overturned, but the trial and crown court appeal altogether must have wasted an enormous amount of time for the defendant and cost the taxpayer a very considerable amount of money as well.
It was revealed in that last above case that the prosecution was brought by a police woman from a specialized “hate crime” unit, and the police woman involved seems to have been in fact the person who took most offence to the social media post. Needless to say then, this activity in pursuit of “hate incidents” has put a great strain on all branches of our justice system, and it seems increasingly the case that resources are being diverted from combatting really serious crimes to gathering information about trivial crimes and even non-crimes.
Citizens have been encouraged to report to the authorities whenever they feel they have been a victim of hate, websites such as the “True Vision” “report-it” site have been widely promoted in the media:
Stop Hate Crime
There have subsequently been wild claims of “huge rises” in hate crime incidents, with attempts to smear the Brexit campaign in particular as directly causing these rises, yet it is very possible that a self-fulfilling prophecy effect occurred, as people were persistently encouraged to report such incidents by the media and so more incidents were reported. In tandem with such campaigns, different identity groups such as Tell MAMA and the CST have been competing to claim chief victimhood status, consequently the differences between groups have been emphasized and no doubt real racial and religious tensions have in fact been exacerbated as a result. Those groups who are not represented by such a campaign group have also begun to feel that the law is discriminating against them.
The resulting disparities in sentencing in similar cases are fueling division in society, the introduction of the word “hatred” into our law is actually exacerbating racial and religious tensions, the very opposite effect to the one supposedly intended. The increasingly convoluted wording of the law is also creating complications for judges, making the business of reaching a “correct” sentencing decision more difficult.
Scope creep from the prosecution of more serious “hate” crimes to the prosecution of quite trivial incidents, and the recording of even incidents that the authorities themselves admit are not criminal, has further put a strain on our justice system and diverted resources from the prosection of those more serious crimes.
In conclusion I hereby call for the abolition in its entirety of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, and the removal of all other references to “hate incidents” and “hate crime” in the law and in police guidelines.
Please share widely to help us get the campaign under way. Also if you have any good examples of e.g. disparities in sentencing or other related links, please share in the comments section below, in addition to any feedback you would like to give of course. In the next post I will look particularly at the introduction of the phrases “malicious communication” and “grossly offensive communication” into our laws.
The first prosecution for hatred:
The Glasgow Herald 26 Jan 1967
conspiring to contravene the act by distributing insulting written matter likely and intended to stir up hatred against a section of the public distinguished by colour and race.
From the Prison Reform Trust:
MITIGATION The Role Of Personal Factors In Sentencing
See 145 Increase in sentences for racial or religious aggravation:
Criminal Justice Act 2003
From the Crown Prosecution Service website:
Even the Citizens’ Advice Bureau has a page on hate incidents and hate crime:
What are hate incidents and hate crime?
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.