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

Letter from The Council of Christians and Jews

  Thank you for your letter regarding questions 8, 9 and 10. I was unaware, when writing the first paper that I submitted, that religious hatred had been included as an offence in the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which came into force last December. This is a very recent piece of legislation and it is therefore not surprising that only one conviction has so far been secured, as reported in The Times, Saturday 27 July.

  In that case, it is reported that the defendant clearly expresses both hostile views about Islam and hatred of Muslims, in a violent manner.

  I take it that the prosecution was able to proceed because the defendant clearly expressed religious hatred, rather than confining himself to animus against a group of persons defined in religious terms; ie he spoke about Islam, as well as referring to Muslims. To the best of my knowledge this is unusual; I would expect the number of prosecutions to be very small, unless Lord Avebury's bill is adopted.

  The defendant, incidentally, accepted that it was wrong to insult or abuse Muslims, but thought that he had every right to express strong views about "fundamentalism". This distinction would be sustained by the Avebury Bill, which would not permit confusion of passionately argued statements of belief with incitement to hatred of persons. The alternative definition of religious hatred would, I think, be far less certain, and more difficult to clarify, especially if we allow for the perceptions of those who might be outraged by views that they found hurtful or offensive.

  With reference to question 8 many cases are not prosecuted: failure to apprehend the culprit, shortcomings in evidence or lack of witnesses mean that it is not possible to proceed. I am not aware of any cases where CPS has declined to act, when there was reason to believe a conviction might be secured, but my knowledge here is very limited and it is important for the committee to consult with religious bodies, police and those more closely involved in the legal process.

  Regarding question 9, both Jewish and Muslim communities have organisations which monitor incidents of religious hatred. Victims report the incidents which are logged and reported to the police. This means that statistics are available and trends can be monitored. In using this material it is, however, wise to clarify what precisely constitutes an incident, and to break down the incidents into serious and minor categories, rather than using a simple global figure.

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