Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-174)|
THURSDAY 27 JUNE 2002
Baroness Massey of Darwen
160. We had not quite completed question no.6.
You seem to be saying it would be helpful to have a new offence
for incitement to religious hatred. The second part of that question
is quite difficult: how should we frame it to ensure success of
prosecution? What is your response to that?
(Mr Fahy) Overall, our feeling is that if it was framed
along the lines of the existing law for incitement to racial hatred,
that would work. The Attorney General would need to consider what
guidelines there should be around the issue of fair comment, which
would be more problematic than it is under racial discrimination.
If it was framed along the same lines as for incitement to racial
hatred, it would reinforce the issue about equality. At the moment,
the Jewish and Sikh faiths are covered, but the Muslim faith is
not. There would be a problem if such a law was seen to be framed
in a way that was weaker than that for incitement to racial hatred
and would just reinforce the feeling of inequality.
161. In the light of questions nos.1-6 and 8,
apart from two other discrete matters that I will ask you about
in a moment, have we now covered what is, in your view, the desirability
of using the Public Order Act mechanism to increase the armoury
for serious religiously aggravated offences in addition to racially
aggravated offences? Is there anything else you want to add on
(Mr Fahy) We certainly felt there are still some difficulties
in the way that the Anti-Terrorism Act relates to religiously
aggravated offences and there are some anomalies within that.
(Mr Tucker) The Anti-Terrorism Crime Security Act
amends the legislation so that exactly the same wording applies,
so in that sense there is not an anomaly. The difficulty from
the policing perspective comes from the fact that you have to
charge both offences if there was any doubt because you cannot
in the same charge have religiously or racially aggravated, so
you have to put both offences.
162. Do you require something to be said about
(Mr Fahy) There is an element of duplicity. You are
charging two very similar charges about the same incident. It
will always look as though the prosecutor is trying to have two
bites at the cherry. There are some offences, like section 18
of the Offences Against the Person Act that cannot be religiously
aggravated. The reason for that is that it already carries a life
sentence, and therefore it could be argued that it cannot be further
aggravated. On the other hand, it seems an anomaly that it is
163. Mr Fahy, that is not right, if I may say
so. The reason why the very serious offences that carry life penalty
for instance were not dealt with because the evidence before the
court of the type of behaviour that the defendant had gone in
or, albeit you do not have a separate offence, does aggravate
what he has done to the extent that the judge can use his powers
within the maximum to impose a more severe penalty than would
otherwise be the case. The 1998 legislation dealt with the less
serious offences where for the sake of argument two years is not
considered to be a great enough maximum. You have still got the
very serious offences, and that is why I asked you about evidence
and presentation. Have you had any difficulty about this? I cannot
imagine that you have.
(Mr Fahy) No, we have not had any difficulties, but
we still see an anomaly in that because section 18 would not be
charged specifically as being religiously aggravated and it does
not have the same symbolic effect. I understand your point, and
in all these cases, clearly, it eventually comes down to whether
the judge recognises that in a sentence, and whether that is reported
to have that deterrent effect.
164. I do not want to get into very complicated
matters, but the particulars of the offence, if it was a racially
or now religiously aggravated matter, would so state. Would you
not deal with it in the particulars if that were a section 18
wounding or GBH?
(Mr Fahy) Yes, clearly, we would.
165. You cover it in any event, do you not?
(Mr Fahy) Yes, indeed.
(Mr Tucker) The difficulty that can arise is that
the element of a racially aggravated section 20 offence, which
is the unlawful wounding, is different to a section 18 offence.
If you are not quite careful about it, you could charge a section
18 offence; the jury could return a guilty verdict on section
20; and the racial aggravation would be lost because the elements
of the offence are not the same. You could only go from a section
18 to a section 20; you cannot go to racially or religiously aggravated
section 20 offences.
Chairman: It may not be the only occasion when
the CPS put the wrong particulars in the charge. There are two
things I would like to ask. Is there any experience on the law
of blasphemy and that type of offence? We have not asked you a
specific question about it, but, as you probably appreciate, it
is one of the matters that is before this Committee. If you have
any experience, we would be grateful to know about it.
166. I wanted to ask you particularly about
the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act 1860, which is the only one
of the statutory offences that was repealed by the Religious Offences
Bill which has been used in recent times. It penalises riotous,
violent or indecent behaviour in a sacred place. That does apply
to non-Christian places of worship as it does to the churches.
Do you think there is any room in the law for a particular offence
of causing disturbances in a religious place of worship that would
not apply elsewhere, and can you think of any recent cases where
that power to prosecute has been used?
(Mr Tucker) I can only think of one particular case
where it was used and that was in relation to the gay rights issue.
Somebody was charged then but I have never heard of it being used
in any other circumstances.
167. The only place it was used in the Law Commission's
report in 1985 was a case where demonstrators interrupted the
service that was being attended by Mr Harold Wilson, then Prime
Minister, to protest against his policy on Vietnam. That was 35
years ago. Can you let us have any information that you could
come by about more recent prosecutions under the Ecclesiastical
(Mr Fahy) We are not aware of any prosecutions, but
we can see if we can find out. In general, we would recognise
that sacred places are of great importance to the different religions.
When we have had to deal with times of tension, we always give
particular protection to mosques and Dilwaras and other places
of worship. I can certainly see occasions when that law could
be used. Again, such a circumstance would probably be covered
by existing public order legislation. There has always got to
be an advantage in having laws that reflect the seriousness of
the situation, and the particular importance that faiths give
to their places of worship, which should be recognised.
168. Mr Fahy, I think one of the points about
this is that there may be a desecration when there is nobody else
there, in the middle of the night or something like that, which
needs to be able to be dealt with. The Public Order Act would
certainly not cover it.
(Mr Fahy) No, but often the law relating to criminal
damage would cover that.
(Mr Baines) That is right. My Lord Chairman, I was
actually thinking as we were speaking about instances where there
have been riots and disturbances in religious premises, very similar,
as Mr Fahy has outlined, to churches, dilwara and in mosques.
I think there have also been examples, as you have stated, where
there have been incidents where the places have been empty. To
my knowledge, this Act has not been used. It may well be that
there are circumstances when action could be taken.
169. You were not given notice of this. We are
always open to a supplementary note from any of you. It would
be extremely helpful, if you subsequently think of anything along
this line, if you could let us know. The other thing that we had
on our list to ask you was whether police officers of faiths other
than Christian have had to confront religious hatred or discrimination
because of their work. I do not know whether that is directly
in line with what we are dealing with in this Select Committee
but I think it would be very interesting and valuable to know
if you have examples of this.
(Mr Fahy) I can personally say that certainly some
members of the Christian police Association have said that they
have faced discrimination. I am surprised to a degree there is
a distinction being made but certainly again the Faith Police
Associations do feel they are discriminated against in terms of
public holidays, in that their own holy days are not recognised,
and such issues as prayer times and diet. For instance, police
officers who have been studying at police training schools often
say there is no provision for their particular diet. Clearly,
Mr Tucker has talked about the issue of uniforms, which we are
trying to address. For Sikh officers, some police forces insist
that all police officers wear what we call major helmet: a crash
helmet for riot training. Clearly Sikh officers would regard that
as a form of discrimination. Some Jewish officers have complained
about the fact that the sabbath is not respected and they cannot
be guaranteed to have time off on the sabbath. So there is a range
of issues on which essentially the Association of Police Officer
is now putting out guidance for police forces. The Association
advocates a commonsense approach, that the operation needs of
the service come first, but often very commonsense measures can
be put in place, for instance, to allow officers who wish to observe
their faith to say their prayers during the day, without really
affecting the service to the public, in the same way that some
members of staff can have a cigarette break, shall we say. It
has been shown by the Metropolitan Police that the needs of Muslim
women can be accommodated with the uniform and that in time officers
of a faith could exchange their particular holy days for other
public holidays. In fact, it would be of benefit to the service
because then everybody would not be trying to have the same day
off for Christmas or whatever. So there are practical measures
that the police force can put into effect to increase confidence
amongst those officers that observe a faith. Clearly, in the long
term we hope that will encourage more members of ethnic minorities
in particular to want to join the service.
170. The problem is whether we can do anything
about these matters. It is as well to air that. Is there anything
else you would like to add?
(Mr Baines) I would just like to add along that line
that we have done certain things. We are trying to address some
of these issues which are very relevant, such as prayer rooms
and quiet rooms available to those of all religions and introduce
those, and the introduction, for example, of halal meat in police
canteens. I would like to echo the comments of Mr Fahy. I think
the police service is going in the general direction where it
has to address some of these issues right across all religions
if we are going to include members from all faiths in the police
Baroness Richardson of Calow
171. This is not really to do with this either,
but in your training of police officers of all faiths or none,
does a sensitivity towards faith issues figure in their training?
It seems to me that sometimes there could be a little more sensitivity
towards some very delicate areas of faith that is not always shown.
(Mr Baines) Perhaps I could answer that question?
One of the things we have piloted, particularly in Bradford, over
the last 10 or 15 years, is that every new probation constable
who comes to the city actually spends a day visiting other people's
religious places, Dilwara and Hindu temples and mosques. They
have an emersion training and learn about some of those different
faiths as part of their very basic introduction to policing in
the city. That is something that we have tired to develop.
172. May I supplement that by saying: does that
work both ways? Does that mean that you would teach Muslims what
the tenets of the Christian faith require?
(Mr Baines) We have taken probationers to churches.
That would include Muslim officers. We have also taken them to
other places as well, for example to the Salvation Army because
we are trying to teach officers about the welfare of people who
are very different to themselves in that general context. So we
have looked at all kinds of different ways of introducing officers
to some of those issues. Yes, we would include that.
173. I just want to go back to the definition
of relations, which was raised earlier. It seems that in the Anti-terrorism
Act, which was passed last December, we were able to leave in
attacks on religious grounds on individuals. That stayed there.
What was dropped off was incitement to hatred. It seems that there
was not any difficulty in having to defend religion for that part
of it. Do you think it is incongruous that we should have worried
about the definition of religion in terms of hatred and incitement
(Mr Fahy) No, we do not see a difficulty about the
issue of the definition of religion. I think the difficulty we
see is around this issue of fair comment, which we think would
be more problematic than it is on racial grounds. As I say, we
are concerned about us being involved in demonstrations where
it could be alleged by one side that what was regarded as fair
comment and people's own very strongly held views about issues
like animal rights or abortion, or whatever, would then put us
in a position where we would be asked to take action on what might
be incitement grounds. We see that as a difficult area. We would
have to go to the prosecution authorities for their advice. We
do see that particular issue as being more problematic because,
as I say, all faiths have particular beliefs which other people
may well object to and want to question. I think, though, that
the distinction was made here that it is about trying to incite
hatred against a body of people and them as individuals and question
their moral standing, rather than questioning their reasoning
behind a particular tenet or a particular belief.
174. May I say how very much we have appreciated
those extremely valuable and interesting answers. Could I just
tell you once more, if you have any further thoughts on any of
these matters, we would be delighted to receive them. Send them
to our Secretary. For the moment, it is sufficient on behalf of
all of us to thank the three of you very much indeed for the way
in which you have addressed this. You have given us a lot to think
about. We will read this transcript with a lot of interest. Perhaps
you will too, I do not know.
(Mr Fahy) Certainly, I think we will. One final comment
is that certainly in all our discussions since September 11th,
and during other difficulties, we have been impressed by the leaders
of all the various faith communities. They have been absolutely
intent to make sure that what might be hostility and tension in
other parts of the world does not overflow into this country.
What we are concerned is about extremists who are outside those
faiths and who actually have an interest in there being tension,
but overall, particularly the leaders of the Muslim faith, Jewish
faith, Hindu faith and the Sikh community, they have all worked
with us with that same intent of making sure that good community
relations in this country are preserved. We value that.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.