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7th March
2010
  

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006...

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Amending the Public Order Act 1986
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royal arms logo The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006

An Act to make provision about offences involving stirring up hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds.

The Public Order Act 1986 is amended by inserting:

Part 3A Hatred against persons on religious grounds

29A Meaning of religious hatred

In this Part religious hatred means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief. Acts intended to stir up religious hatred

29B Use of words or behaviour or display of written material

(1) A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.

(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the written material is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling.

(3) A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under this section.

(4) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to prove that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the written material displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling.

(5) This section does not apply to words or behaviour used, or written material displayed, solely for the purpose of being included in a programme service.

29C Publishing or distributing written material

(1) A person who publishes or distributes written material which is threatening is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.

(2) References in this Part to the publication or distribution of written material are to its publication or distribution to the public or a section of the public.

29D Public performance of play

29E Distributing, showing or playing a recording

29G Possession of inflammatory material

(1) A person who has in his possession written material which is threatening, or a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening, with a view to—

(a) in the case of written material, its being displayed, published, distributed, or included in a programme service whether by himself or another, or

(b) in the case of a recording, its being distributed, shown, played, or included in a programme service, whether by himself or another,

is guilty of an offence if he intends religious hatred to be stirred up thereby.

(2) For this purpose regard shall be had to such display, publication, distribution, showing, playing, or inclusion in a programme service as he has, or it may reasonably be inferred that he has, in view.

29HPowers of entry and search

29I Power to order forfeiture

29J Protection of freedom of expression

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system. Supplementary provisions

29K Savings for reports of parliamentary or judicial proceedings

29L Procedure and punishment

(1) No proceedings for an offence under this Part may be instituted in England and Wales except by or with the consent of the Attorney General.

(2) For the purposes of the rules in England and Wales against charging more than one offence in the same count or information, each of sections 29B to 29G creates one offence.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this Part is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine or both;

(b) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.

29M Offences by corporations

Explanatory Notes

12. The reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief is a broad one, and is in line with the freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the ECHR. It includes, although this list is not definitive, those religions widely recognised in this country such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Rastafarianism, Baha'ism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism. Equally, branches or sects within a religion can be considered as religions or religious beliefs in their own right. The offences also cover hatred directed against a group of persons defined by reference to a lack of religious belief, such as Atheists and Humanists. The offences are designed to include hatred against a group where the hatred is not based on the religious beliefs of the group or even on a lack of any religious belief, but based on the fact that the group do not share the particular religious beliefs of the perpetrator.

 

15th February
2010
  

Offsite: A Legal Reminder...

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Server location is ruled irrelevant to the internet posting of racially inflammatory material
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Old BaileyThe law of England and Wales applies to material published online, even if it is hosted on a server in another country, the Court of Appeal has ruled. As long as a substantial measure of the activities takes place in England, its law will apply, it said.

Two men's appeals against convictions for publishing racially inflammatory material were based on their claim that the law of England and Wales should not apply because the material in question was hosted on a server in California in the US.

The Court of Appeal rejected that claim, saying that according to a precedent set in a previous case domestic law will apply so long as much of the activity in question took place in the UK.

Lawyers for the two men also argued that there was no actual publication of the material because there was no actual proof that anybody had read it. The Court of Appeals dismissed this claim.

Lord Justice Scott Baker said: The point that there cannot be publication without a publishee is in our judgment fundamentally misconceived, he said. It is based on an irrelevant comparison with the law of libel. Libel is a tort or civil wrong where it is necessary for the claimant to prove that the words complained of were published of him and were defamatory of him … the offences of displaying, distributing or publishing racially inflammatory written material do not require proof that anybody actually read or heard the material.

...Read the full article

 

10th May
2008
  

Blasphemy Laws Repealed...

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House of Commons supports Lords repeal
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The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to support the abolition of the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. This was the final stage in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and the amendment was carried by 378 votes to 57. The Bill has received Royal Assent, so the blasphemy law is now officially dead and buried.

In a tetchy and bad-tempered parliamentary debate, Conservatives put in their final bid to block the abolition, arguing that it represented a significant step in the secularising of Britain. Some raised the spectre of it being the beginning of a process that would eventually lead to disestablishment. Government Minister Maria Eagle MP assured MPs that there was no such "hidden agenda".

Other MPs were, though, less shy about hoping that one day the Church of England would be disestablished. David Howarth, Liberal Democrat shadow Solicitor General said: It is the policy of my party to work towards the disestablishment of the Church, and the separation of Church and state. I am fairly comfortable with that position.

Howarth continued: The principle of the separation of Church and state is not about the separation of religion and politics, which I think is impossible. We cannot separate people's moral, religious views from their political views. We are talking about the state, not about society, and about the religious commitments of the state, not about whether people in society are religious or not. In the course of debate we have heard three separate arguments against the idea of state neutrality in religion. One of them; it might be called the "this is a Christian country" argument.

NSS honorary associate Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem MP for Abingdon and Oxford (the original architect of this amendment), challenged Tory MPs who were arguing for the preservation of blasphemy laws. In an earlier debate that evening on the same Bill they had argued that new proposals to outlaw hatred against homosexuals would unnecessarily restrict the right of religious people to make clear their disapproval of homosexuality. Now they were arguing that the blasphemy law was necessary to protect religious people against offence. It seemed that their defence of free speech was not entirely consistent.

Dr Harris said: When it came to the issue of incitement to homophobic hatred, we heard a number of speeches and interventions from Conservative Members claiming that freedom of speech was critical and that freedom of expression was under threat. Yet when it comes to an issue—blasphemy, as opposed to incitement to hatred—that ca causes individuals themselves no damage, making the case for proscribing it much weaker, those very same people argue that freedom of expression has to go in order to maintain their version of no change. They want to maintain some symbolic law or the safety of the UK constitution, which they fear may be shaken to its foundations by the abolition of these unnecessary and discriminatory laws.

 

15th December
2007
  

Law: Contemptuous reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous...

Blasphemy and religious hatred law
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Jerry Springer: The opera DVD cover Blasphemy is a crime in England, but it has become virtually defunct. The offence is defined as the publication of “contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter” relating only to God, Jesus Christ, the bible or the beliefs of the Church of England — it is not blasphemy to attack any religion other than Christianity.

In 1989, the film Visions of Ecstasy, directed by Nigel Wingrove, was banned in Britain for blasphemy because of its depictions of the erotic fantasies of St. Theresa of Avila, a 16th-century Spanish Carmelite nun who asserted that she had ''raptures'' about Christ. On appeal, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a state can have blasphemy laws because they are justified exceptions to freedom of expression.

For the most part, however, our law has evolved to become tolerant of people critical of Christianity. Prosecutions for blasphemy are extremely rare.

In 2006, Parliament passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it illegal to stir up hatred against people on the basis of their religion, but in section 29J it explicitly permits criticism of any set of religious ideas.

This is a wise law. People can’t change their race or the colour of their skin, so hating them for it is irrational. But your ideas are something that should be open to criticism. No group should be given special protection against being insulted or offended if its ideas are attacked. There’s a world of difference between saying anyone who believes the earth is flat is being stupid (an attack on a belief) and anyone who is English is stupid (an attack on people).

The new offence of stirring up hatred against people on religious grounds covers words, behaviour and written and broadcast material; to be an offence, that material must be threatening and intended to stir up religious hatred. The victims must be defined by their religious belief or lack of it (though the Act doesn't state what, exactly, constitutes a religion or religious belief: that is left to the courts to determine.)

After a lively Parliamentary debate, section 29J was inserted into the 2006 Act in an attempt to protect fee speech. It states that nothing in the Act should be interpreted in any way that would restrict debate or prevent criticism of particular religious beliefs.

Imagine the consequences if that section hadn’t been inserted. A religion that, for instance, condoned incest or forbade children from learning science would be able to preach such practices with impunity. Anyone trying to speak against it would be punished for insulting the believers.

We must allow people to hear all sides of an argument about beliefs so that they can make up their own minds. How good can a set of ideas be if the only way its believers can keep them alive is to ensure that it is illegal to criticise them?

 

26th October
2007
  

Hated Law...

A judge's view on the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006
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QuetzalcoatlThe Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 was brought into force at the start of this month.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Likewise, laws against stirring up racial hatred already existed, but they were over 20 years old. The new provisions bring the law up to date by creating new criminal offences of inciting racial hated. That covers everything from the everyday use of words and behaviour to the production and distribution of written or recorded material. For each of the offences, the words or material must be threatening, and it must be intended to stir up religious hatred.

"Religious hatred" is defined as hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to their religious belief, or even their lack of religious belief. Oddly, though, the Act steers clear of defining exactly what amounts to a religion or a religious belief. Someone once famously grafittied “Eric Clapton is God”, but does that make him a religion? Who will decide then whether a particular belief amounts to a religion?

Step forward the judges. The courts will decide.

The new Act does produce a list of religions that will be covered, though it must be made clear that this list is by no means exhaustive. All the major religions are covered, along with various sects, but what about people who have no religious belief? Curiously, the Act does give atheists and humanists a degree of protection from scorn.

But the Act has important reservations. It makes clear that it is not intended to prevent people from seeking to convert others to or from a particular belief. Nor is its purpose to stifle discussion about different belief systems, even if that discussion steeps to antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult or abuse . But I am not sure that sits easily with the mischief the Act is attempting to prevent.

The dividing line between permitted discussion and unlawful criticism is a difficult one that is likely to test the mettle of the courts. Stirring up race hatred is clearly a very sensitive issue, so it is not surprising that the Act makes it clear that no prosecution can proceed without the consent of the Attorney-General.

While the good intentions of the Act are not to be doubted, its nuances are likely to keep lawyers and the courts busy for some time. But that's something new laws invariably do.



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