Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. In plain terms, there is something for the lawyers to get their teeth into once the Bill becomes law, without committing yourself too far?
  (Mr Walsh) The fact that judicial review is being excluded is a separate thing from saying that judicial oversight has been excluded, which is certainly not the case. There are clear appeal rights set into SIAC. It is an issue about channelling where those judicial challenges come but not in any way seeking to remove them.

  David Winnick: No doubt it will be argued further at the committee stage of the Bill.

  Chairman: Could we turn briefly to one or two of the other measures in the Bill, starting with religious hatred?

Mr Malins

  221. Whose idea was this to have an offence of religious hatred? Where did the proposal first come from? Who asked the government to do it?
  (Beverley Hughes) It is something that we considered in the context of events after 11 September, the public order issues that have also arisen in this country in some of our towns over recent months and looking back it is also something particularly in relation to religious aggravation offences that was argued for from people on all sides of the House when the Crime and Disorder Act was being debated in 1998.

  222. I distinguish between aggravation and incitement. Are you saying that this proposal was in the government's mind for some time?
  (Beverley Hughes) I think there has been an ongoing debate, has there not, that has arisen at various times over the past few years as to whether religious hatred ought to be included alongside racial hatred in the incitement provisions of the Public Order Act and the anomalies, some would argue, that some groups of people—Jewish people and Sikh people—had by dint of court decisions being embraced as racist under the existing legislation; whereas other groups of people were excluded. That has been something that has been around for some time that we have been aware of.

  223. In what ways is the existing law ineffective? Can you tell me a mischief that the government is trying to cure that is not covered by existing law?
  (Beverley Hughes) In terms of incitement?

  224. Yes.
  (Beverley Hughes) Clearly, the existing law does not cover groups that are not racial groups.

  225. I am talking about an offence. Tell me a mischief. A group is not a mischief.
  (Beverley Hughes) The production of literature, for instance, that is clearly inciting people to hatred and likely to result in public disorder, the kind of propaganda that certain groups in this country would otherwise produce. There have been prosecutions, particularly in relation to literature.

  226. Handing out leaflets which are very offensive and nasty by a mosque?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes.

  227. That mischief is covered by section four of the Public Order Act.
  (Beverley Hughes) It is behaviour, as you know, likely to incite hatred and result in a situation of public disorder. We are simply proposing to extend the provisions where people do that in relation to a racial group to people who do that in relation to groups that are not racist but are religious or indeed people who have no religion.

  228. There have been very few convictions in relation to religious hatred.
  (Beverley Hughes) There have been about 40 over the last decade.

  229. Four in the last three years. That is right, is it?
  (Beverley Hughes) I am not sure about the last three years. It is about four a year on average.

  Mr Malins: I think it is four or five in the last three years. Is it very difficult to prosecute?

  Chairman: We know of seven prosecutions and four convictions in the year 2000.

Mr Malins

  230. I have had a PQ with a different answer but it is very small. Do you know why that is? Is it very difficult to prosecute?
  (Beverley Hughes) It is difficult to prosecute in the sense that the threshold of evidence is a fairly high threshold. Nonetheless, I do not think that the merit of the existing legislation is in terms only of the number of prosecutions. We do feel that the deterrent effect on the extent to which some of these racist groups would go otherwise without this legislation is a significant one in that, whilst they still produce propaganda, they are mindful of the chance of prosecution and that does limit to some extent the excesses to which they would otherwise go.

  231. If the racial hatred ones are difficult to prosecute, will not the religious hatred ones be equally difficult to prosecute?
  (Beverley Hughes) It is not only the number of prosecutions and we are not necessarily talking about lowering the threshold. It is actually the deterrent effect that having those offences on the statute book is having. We are convinced that it is having a deterrent effect in relation to racial hatred and similarly we hope for the same effect in terms of religious groups and people without religion as well.

  232. There have been thousands of successful prosecutions for racially aggravated offences, have there not?
  (Beverley Hughes) There have been about 21,000 cases. That is clearly where there is a specific offence against a specific individual or set of circumstances. It is much more straightforward in the sense of the threshold of evidence and the nature of the evidence, both the offence itself and the racially aggravated component of it. In my view, you also have to see the two together. In a sense, I think the incitement provisions, albeit they are public order provisions and not specific offences, are supporting one another. They are doing different things in relation to these issues.

Mr Cameron

  233. You have not in the Bill defined religious belief. Is there a reason for that?
  (Beverley Hughes) We do not think we need to. As you will notice, the Bill provides for incitement on the basis of religion or on the basis of people having no religion. We do not feel we need to get into the business of drawing up a list of beliefs that are recognised in some statutory way as religions. That would be a matter that the courts will take a view on in any individual cases that are brought forward. It is not necessary for us to do that.

  234. From reading all the press articles about who might be caught and who might not be caught by this clause, do you think this is a very complicated area? Has it taken a lot of time to try to get this right?
  (Beverley Hughes) Not in terms of the technicalities of the Bill because it simply involves extending existing provisions to include religious groups in addition to racial groups.

  235. You are happy for it to be part of an emergency bill that is going to be debated for just a few days and law by Christmas?
  (Beverley Hughes) We are.

  236. Did you consider levelling the playing field by abolishing the blasphemy laws?
  (Beverley Hughes) Representations were made during the process of our considerations about that. The reason that that is not in the Bill is because not just that provision itself but other things that would have to be alongside that are outside the scope of an anti-terrorism bill and were just too wide for us to consider and would generate a debate which is a different debate than the debate we need to have in the context of the measures of this Bill, which are about security and greater protection in relation to terrorism.

  237. In a way, that is my point. Religious belief is in the Bill but blasphemy laws are about religious belief. You cannot put abolition of the blasphemy laws in this Bill because it makes it too long and not an emergency bill. Does that not really mean that actually religious hatred, religious belief, blasphemy laws should be looked at separately from an emergency piece of legislation?
  (Beverley Hughes) No. The way in which you need to see the provisions in this Bill is not about religion per se. It is about the incitement provision. It is a public order provision and the religious aggravation is about the commission of criminal activities which may or may not be linked to terrorism. It is about crime and about disorder and the kind of behaviour that can incite public disorder and crime. That is why those measures are in this Bill. Blasphemy is a completely different debate. There is read across in some ways but it takes you into a very different debate which will obviously be a very important debate for people in this country and it seems to me it would be wrong to try and sweep that issue up in a bill about terrorism and crime.

  238. You said this was designed to get people who incited religious hatred that could lead to disorder. The Satanic Verses clearly incited religious hatred and it did lead to quite a lot of disorder. Would it be caught by this Bill?
  (Beverley Hughes) It would not be. That is another argument. There has been one instance of that publication.

  239. How do you know it would not be caught? Lots of people feel very strongly that this was a book that incited religious hatred. Presumably, once this becomes law, they will go to the Office of Public Prosecutions and say, "Will you prosecute this man for this book because he has incited religious hatred and caused disorder."
  (Beverley Hughes) I say it would not be caught because those decisions have already been made. That book has been published for some time and I am not going to get into a debate on The Satanic Verses, I am afraid.

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