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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-327)



  320. I think we may be able to get round this. One of the advantages is that we have got Professor Bradney here who is our specialist adviser and it may be you could let us know what it is that is available. He may be able to use parliamentary channels to get hold of it. It is worth pursuing, is it?
  (Mr Allen) It is, yes.

  321. We want to do comparative law work and see what is happening in the rest of Europe.
  (Mr Allen) Yes.
  (Mr Khan) My Lord Chairman, before we leave question four, there is one other issue which is raised in question four, which is whether we think the method that has been proposed is the appropriate method, that is, by simply adding the words "religious" to the current legislation. The short answer is yes, that is the easy thing to do. We know the Home Office are in favour of that and it makes their life easier, and they are very happy with this method. That is the easy answer. There is another way of achieving the same goal and having improvements, other than in the criminal world, and that would be by making equally simple changes in the Race Relations Act 1976. By simply adding religion as one of the markers that define race. Presently the markets are one's ethnic or national origin, nationality and colour—you could simply add in the word "religion" there to solve the problems we experience. I have not had a chance to check Hansard from 1976 but my understanding is that there was a lot of discussion prior to the Race Relations Act—and it may be Hansard of 1976, I am not sure—about adding, as a marker of race, the word "religion". That is not the same thing as extending the Race Relations Act to include race and religion but simply having "religion" as a marker of race. The advantage of that would be that when it comes to incitement to racial hatred and other uses of the word "race" both in the criminal world and the civil world religion would be included and would deal with the mischief that we are talking about.

  Chairman: So far as it concerns criminal law we appreciate it is the easy way to do it but whether it is perhaps too facile may be another matter.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

  322. Have you evidence of the far right organisations latching on to what I call contentious issues and then, as an add on, blaming minority groups for the problems they are protesting about?
  (Mr Allen) There is actually a reference on this in our submission document. It was the National Front with regard to the Fenham Mosque, the North East branch of the National Front. They latched immediately on to and exploited that issue.

  323. Is this a growing thing where maybe a local baths is being closed down because of economic pressures on local authorities and the far right just jump on the bandwagon and tag on the end?
  (Mr Allen) That is right. I have got examples as well from Tipton in the West Midlands and also from where I live in Lye, where there is the case of the Ahmadi family in the Mosque in Lye. The BNP did actually come to Lye immediately after that incident to try and gain some publicity and start a campaign there. They do wait for those opportunities to arise and then they do target those and try and exploit them.
  (Mr Aziz) We have one more set of thoughts, my Lord Chairman, and we wonder if we could move very quickly to question seven. I realise the time is running out very fast.


  324. Very briefly.
  (Mr Hussain) My Lord Chairman, our concern is that if these crimes are not reported then obviously we are undermining the whole process. At the same time, however, we would like to say that reporting is not the only measure of success for such a set of legislation. In fact such legislation gives a very positive signal to religious communities to say that they are included, especially when you are dealing with a community like the Muslim community, which feels quite alienated at times for historical reasons and for reasons of Islamophobia as we have seen. This is a very positive signal that we must send out. In such a community we are concerned that the same problems as had happened with race legislation are not repeated in the case of provisions which cover religious matters. We are very concerned that there should be greater awareness raising within the Muslim community of any changes to legislation. We feel that even in regard to race legislation there is quite a low awareness within the Muslim community of what mechanisms people have access to in order to pursue cases and incidents. There seems also to be a very low level of confidence in the institutions concerned as identified by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in relation to the Police and the Denman Report in relation to the CPS. These are issues that we think need very careful addressing. Furthermore, there is currently no equivalent to the CRE in the case of religious matters, and although this may be resolved by the evolution of a single equality body, I am reliably informed that this is some years in the future if it is to be, so again this is a cause of serious concern. If people do wish to pursue such cases there has to be adequate support for them. There has to be something at the front line which people can refer to, people can relate to and people can walk into and say "Here is an incident which I experienced, please help me take this through the system". If such measures are not in place then the frustration that people feel may further exacerbate their sense of alienation, creating a very negative loop of feedback.

  325. I think this is very clearly set out in the major document, the annual report, this broader based approach, and I look forward to seeing whether it is replicated in the document which you are now going to give us.
  (Mr Hussain) Yes, thank you.

  326. May I suggest that you stay and listen to the other two groups who are going to give evidence to us. First of all we promise we will read your paper. We are not beyond coming back to witnesses if there are things we want to explore further. If you think after the rest of the evidence this afternoon anything arises which you would like to comment on further you are very welcome to do so.
  (Mr Aziz) There is just one more thought, my Lord, and that is to do with the fact that there may still be a gap in the law, even after Section 39, and even after legislation on incitement to religious hatred. That gap may be filled by Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. I am thinking of situations like where somebody decides to urinate against a mosque wall or decides to leave beer cans on a Muslim grave or a pig's head in a Muslim courtyard or even things like dog foul in a mosque courtyard.

  327. Yes.
  (Mr Aziz) I think that kind of problem or nuisance will not be captured either under Section 39 or under religious incitement legislation, and there may be a case, therefore, to retain Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act.

  Chairman: I think that very much coincides with some of the evidence we have had from other sources that although that is an ancient act it still has a function to play. I do not think we are aiming to see it disappear. I am glad to have that confirmation from you. Thank you for coming.

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