Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the Home Office

  1.  In the course of the meeting on 12 June, the Home Office representatives were asked whether (d) is the only one of these offences that could apply to non-Christian faiths?

  (a)  Section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819;

  (b)  Sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888;—repealed.

  (c)  Section 59 of the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847;

  (d)  Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860;

  (e)  Section 36 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861;

  (f)  Section 7 of the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880.

  They have now replied as follows:

    (a)  In relation to offence (a), blasphemous libel is a common law offence, and if Lord Avebury is concerned about the established church, it is that common law offence that he should be repealing. The provision at s.1 of the Criminal Libel Act merely provides for an ancillary power of seizure of blasphemous material (which is limited to Christianity), but also of seditious libellous material, which has nothing to do with religion, and should not be repealed.

    (b)  Has been repealed.

    (c)  The Animal Procedures and Coroners Unit advise that the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847 actually ceased to have effect for cemeteries run by local authorities when the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1974 (LACO) came into force (owing to the Local Government Act 1972 setting up burial authorities and a comprehensive code for the management, regulation and control of cemeteries run by burial authorities).

    LACO includes references to nuisance behaviour, and would apply to anyone, of any religion (or none at all), causing a nuisance within the grounds of the cemetery.

    You should also be aware that LACO and the terms of the Local Government Act do not include private cemetery companies under the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847—these would be the only cemeteries that the Act could be applied to, and it would normally be the case that the Act is incorporated in some way into the Act which established the private cemetery (and company) in the first place—there are very few such cemetery companies still in existence (I can only think of a couple).

    (e)  We do not think there is anything in the offence at (e) that restricts it to Christianity, since it covers "other places of divine worship" and, at the time the statute was written, there were certainly other religions present in England. I imagine that the question of which religions it applies to may well not have been tested in the courts, as it is an obscure, archaic offence, and we cannot find any reported cases on it.

    (f)  Only applies to the Christian faith.

  2.  The Committee also asked for details of prosecutions under various offences, namely:

  (a)  Section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819;

  (b)  Sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888;—repealed.

  (c)  Section 59 of the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847;

  (d)  Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860;

  (e)  Section 36 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;

  (f)  Section 7 of the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880.

  The Home Office replied that "the attached excel spreadsheet (Appendix I), gives a breakdown of proceedings, convictions and sentences for these offences. For the first two, our statistics branch were unable to find any data. The data given is for England and Wales for year 2000 (which is the latest year for which information is available)".

  3.  The following supplementary questions, to which their replies are appended, were forwarded to the Home Office on 20 June.

(a)   In what other countries of the Council of Europe does a law against blasphemy exist, and in each case, how does it compare with ours?

  The Home Office say "apparently we tried to do something similar a few years ago, but it is not possible to compare laws on blasphemy in other countries because they are unlike ours. The only way you could compare them is by looking at laws in other countries in regard to insults to religious groups. In the attached document (Appendix II) there is a summary of what was found in this respect for other EU countries.

  If the committee want to look at comparisons with other Council of Europe countries in a similar vein then they should consult the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance CRI (98) 80—Legal measures to combat racism and intolerance in the Member States of the Council of Europe. The Swiss Institute of Comparative law compiled the report in 1998".

(b)   In what other countries of the Council of Europe are there agencies licensing films and videos, and have any of them imposed pre-publication bans on any films or videos because they might be blasphemous? (Wingrove case).

  The Department of Culture Media and Sport had no information on similar agencies in other European countries and they could not think of anybody who would have this information.

(c)   Is S. 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 the only one of the statutory offences repealed by the Avebury Bill to have been used in recent times?

  The spreadsheet data (Appendix I) should indicate if these offences are still being used.

(d)   Is it the only one of these offences that could apply to places of worship on non-Christian faiths?

  See 1 above.

(e)   Have there been any Section 2 of the 1860 Act cases in the courts relating to non-Christian places of worship? If so, can I have brief details, please.

  Our statistics branch were unable to provide information on this.


England and Wales 20001, 2
Statute Cautions Proceeded
Convicted SentencedAbsolute/
Fine Comm-
Committing any nuisance in a cemeteryCemeteries Clauses Act 1847 11 11
Indecent behaviour in a church or chapel Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 117 7241
Obstructing, assaulting or arresting upon civil process, clergymen (Record as performing service) Offences against the Person Act 1861, Sec 36 2
Removing corpse from graveBurial Act 1857, Sec 25

  (1)  These data are on the all offence basis.

  (2)  Staffordshire Police Force were only able to submit sample data for persons proceeded against and convicted in the magistrates' courts for the year 2000. Although sufficient to estimate higher orders of data, these data are not robust enough at a detailed level and have been excluded from the table

  *Not able to separately identify this offence.

  Source: Crime and Criminal Justice Unit

  IOS: 281-02


CountryOffence Summary
AustriaIncitementInciting hostile acts against religious community
BelgiumIncitementIncitement to discrimination, hatred or violence vis-a"-vis a group or community
DenmarkIncitementLocal and satellite broadcasting must not incite racial or religious hatred
FranceIncitementIncitement to racial discrimination, hatred or violence because of origin or membership of a race or religion
GermanyIncitementDissemination of publications/broadcasts which incite hatred against (…) a national, racial, religious or ethnically distinct group
GreeceIncitementAny person who (…) promotes acts liable to provoke discrimination, hatred or violence towards individuals or groups because of their racial, ethnic or religious origin
IrelandIncitiementWords/material/behaviour must be threatening, abusive or insulting. Use/display must be intended or likely to stir up hatred, including racial hatred (1)
ItalyIncitementIncitement to commit or commission of violent acts or provocation for racial, ethnic, national or religious reasons
LuxemburgDiscrimination Religion one of grounds on which discrimination unlawful
NetherlandsDiscrimination Offence directed against persons on account of their race, religion, conviction, sex or heterosexual or homosexual preference
Portugal (2)MurderDeemed aggravated if motivated by racial or religious hatred.
Spain (3)Discrimination as
aggravating circumstance
Commission of a crime, inter alia, for racist or anti-Semitic motives, or because of ideology, religion or belief of victim (…) deemed to be aggravating circ.


  (1)  ie religion not specifically excluded

  (2)  No other offence specified as susceptible of racial/religious aggravation. Discrimination on religious grounds unlawful but oddly they seem to have no incitement laws at all

  (3)  Part of new Criminal Code, which came into force in 1996. Before this ECRI says their race crime provision limited to addressing associations promoting racial discrimination and offering incitement thereto

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003