Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-559)|
WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2002
540. I think we realise this. I suspect what
you both said just now will challenge a lot of questions, but
apart from education and discrimination, which are outside our
terms of reference, can you point us to any particular legislative
action that could usefully be taken because that is actually what
we have got to try and recommend.
(Mrs Bahl) I wonder if I could come in here at this
point in time and just talk about why we think there is a need
for legislative action. It is for two reasons. One is to provide
a raft of rights to those who are suffering from religious hatred,
but it is also about the reflection of the importance and the
values that the legislators are putting on the protection of those
rights, which is equally important within those communities. So
if we trace it back to, for example, laws on discrimination, laws
on equality of opportunity, they are important (a) to provide
the protection to the individual, but (b) as a reflection of what
the legislators consider to be important to protect within that
community at that time. That, I think, is really the fundamental
reason why we think there should be legislative intervention in
this area. The laws of blasphemy, in our response they set out
the reasons as to why we think that that is not the way forward.
It is because the purpose of the law of blasphemy was to protect
the majority Anglican faith. It is incapable of adaptation in
a multi-cultural environment to then be extended to other faiths
as well. I think that that would be the wrong way to go in terms
of trying to create a raft of rights. There is quite clearly a
need for legislators to say that religious hatred is unacceptable
in Britain today and therefore it should be on the legislative
books and therefore it should be a criminal offence. That really
is our starting point.
541. Very well. I am sure somebody else would
like to ask a question.
(Mr Kallidai) Perhaps we could also go through some
of the questions in the order in which they were sent to us and
respond to them by way of answering them sequentially. I think
there were some interesting examples of incitement to religious
hatred. So we have documented certain instances of that and I
would like to quote from some of them as well.
542. We would very much like to hear an example
from you because this would help us a lot, definitely.
(Mr Kallidai) In December 1995 a hate letter was sent
to parents of Hindu and Sikh students at Slough and Eton school.
The text of the letter, which was written by the Chalvey Muslim
Boys, was as follows: "This is more or less an Islamic school.
We Muslims don't want "Kafirs" such as Sikh and Hindu
children in the school to mix with our children. If your children
come to this school we will bully you boys like the way we did
to the boy who committed suicide and we will make your daughters
pregnant and change them to Islam". So this was the text
of the letter that was sent. In our opinion, this was definitely
incitement to hatred and not respectful to the Hindu way of life.
In February 1998, this is another example, the International Islamic
Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders issued a document containing
the following fatwa, a religious decree to all Muslims. I quote
the words "The ruling to kill the Americans and their alliescivilian
and militaryis an individual duty for every Muslim who
can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it. Occupying
their embassies and forcing closure of their banks". There
is also another incident in September 2001, the Saudi Airlines
staff at Heathow, The Observer paper actually reported this which
I think is also incitement to religious hatred, they had hate
graffiti in toilets saying "Kill Muslims" and "Muslim
scum". There is another example which I recently came upon
which may not be incitement to religious hatred, but in our opinion
it is vilification and ridiculing the Hindu belief system. This
is an article published in July 2000 by the Christian Medical
Fellowship and the article was written by Juge Ram who is a convert
from Hinduism to Christianity and I quote from his article which
was published July 2000 and is at present on their web site. The
article says as follows: "Hindus are lost and spiritually
blind. They are without hope in this world and in the next. Only
Christ can release them. Hinduism is a false religion". So
in our humble opinion we think this is definitely vilification
and ridiculing one billion Hindus worldwide who are established
in a particular religious system.
543. That is not incitement to religious hatred,
as you say.
(Mr Kallidai) No, that particular example is not incitement.
544. It is an example of a pretty extreme point
(Mr Kallidai) That is right.
545. But one surely that would have to be tolerated
under the European Convention?
(Mr Kallidai) I suppose one could tolerate it, but
again the question arises of whether freedom of expression goes
with responsibility of expression as well.
(Mr Dasa) I must say I do agree with you as someone
who lives in Oxford. I do not have a problem with a pastoral expression
from a religious tradition. I think a stronger example that you
have there is the burning of the Ealing temple in 1995, which
is a practical example of incitement to religious hatred by affected
very obviously. To just note up a point you asked Dr Indarjit
Singh, you talked about the effectiveness of trying to prove intent.
In the case of Northern Ireland where in the British Isles I think
it is the best example we have of some of us had hate incitement
with religious incitement involved in since the 1970s, it has
been very ineffective legislation and the very fact is it is so
difficult to prove intent. But it does not look at effect, it
looks at intent in terms of the religious aspect and it has not
worked in Northern Ireland.
546. What you have said has raised a number
of questions, but you have not finished and I am going to come
back to you in a minute. First perhaps we could deal with questions
from The Bishop of Portsmouth and Lady Richardson. I promise you,
you shall finish what you have to say.
(Mr Kallidai) Sure.
Baroness Richardson of Calow
547. The first example that you gave of the
letter that went to Hindu parents seemed to present an actual
threat to children. Did you take that to the police and what was
(Mr Kallidai) I am not aware of what happened in 1995
as a reaction to that, at the moment, but I can definitely inquire
(Dr Bhan) Could I answer that? In many instances like
that the police say they are unable to take any action.
548. You have actually taken this kind of thing
and you have been told that you have no protection under the law?
(Dr Bhan) There are other instances like that. This
is just one and we do not blame them. They say a crime has not
been committed and until we have evidence that a crime has been
committed, they are unable to take any action. It is difficult
to find the source of such letters and so on and it is a very
sensitive issue. These are the words.
549. Was there any discussion about the difference
between incitement to violence and incitement to hatred? Because
there is in law a very substantial difference.
(Dr Bhan) Yes. I cannot answer that, My Lord Chairman,
but I feel that this was not discussed.
(Mrs Bahl) I think we have to get to the principle
where it is not complex, but easy for somebody who is in a situation
where they have been threatened to exercise their rights and it
is easy for those who are enforcing the law to actually be able
to apply that. Earlier on in your discussions with Dr Bhan, the
distinction between religious and racial hatred, in some instances
there will be no distinction at all, there will be a combination
of the two, but in some there will and I think what we have to
try and do is we have to get into the shoes of those who are suffering.
That is a very threatening communication to receive as a parent
and, therefore, what is it that can be done to help those parents
to deal with that. I think we also have to take into account that,
in a number of circumstances now, it is extremely difficult to
actually enforce a law as it exists. You mentioned, I think, earlier
on about the paucity of prosecutions partly because they have
to be approved by the Attorney General under the Public Order
Act. The reality is we have to understand the impact that that
has on the community, because the community therefore feels that
it is not protected and that becomes, in itself, a disincentive
to actually go to the authorities and report the breach of the
law because it is a cyclical process and I think they feel vulnerable.
So I think we have to look at it in the overall context as well.
Chairman: I think we have this very much in
mind, but I think the Bishop of Portsmouth wants to put a question
at this point.
Bishop of Portsmouth
550. I think I would really like, first of all,
to say about the vilification issue which you mentioned, yes,
we deeply and I personally deeply regret these occasions, but
in the work of this Committee, which is to try to define effectively
the difference in racial and religious hatred, I could give you
lots of examples of articles in the press which I find deeply
offensive as a Church of England Bishop, but living through a
time where it is a kind of hobby to criticise all historic institutions.
One sees this beginning now to happen in the Roman Catholic Church
which has had an easy time. Now I am not saying it is a good thing,
but I have to put what you have just said both in the context
of me deeply regretting that this goes on, but also saying there
is this burden of free speech which many people see as less burdensome
and that is regrettable.
(Mrs Bahl) Can I just comment on the balance between
conflicting human rights, because that is what we are talking
about here, the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and
there is the conflicting right which is the freedom of expression
of speech. I recall the debate that took place at the time that
we were looking at the offence of racial hatred. There was a lot
of debate about the violation of the freedom of expression rule
and I think the practical application of the offence and the way
that it is rolled out has not led to a violation of the freedom
of expression. I think our starting point has got to be, rather
than reinventing the wheel, I think if we go back to the rights
as they are expressed in the Convention on Human Rights, which
sets out the concept of freedom of religion and sets out the concept
of freedom of expression, but has a restriction in relation to
freedom of expression, where it is drawing a line itself between
freedom of expression and comments that are made which affect
national security, direct oral integrity, public safety, prevention
of disorder or crime. So there is a recognition that freedom of
expression is not an absolute right. In addition, under Article
14, there is also an express recognition that the rights and freedoms
set out in the convention shall be secured without discrimination
on any grounds such as sex, race, religion. So it is understood
that these rights are not totally inviolate, not absolute, but
they have to be exercised within parameters. What I would suggest
is that that is an excellent starting point which we can use because
within thatand then following on from some of the discussion
that was taking place earlier on about who is going to
551. Can I just interrupt there? It is very
interesting for me to hear you read that out and to hear the rider
that you had read on that. Is that not enough then? The Human
Rights Legislation in itself?
(Mrs Bahl) The Human Rights legislation in itself,
in terms of you mean the criminal side?
552. I was just listening to you and thinking
that sounds pretty reasonable and that sounds more helpful. It
is just not enough on its own? You would still require a new law
of religious offences here?
(Mrs Bahl) Yes, that would be to encapsulate that
into the criminal law in this country, the concept of religious
hatred. So what I am saying is, take those principles and make
it a specific criminal offence in this country. So we do not have
to reinvent the wheel.
553. The trouble about this is that there is
no option about the European Convention, it is with us. You have
got Article 9, you have got Article 14, you have got Article 10
and one of the restrictions that you were talking about is an
infringement of the rights of others. That is what actually what
Otto Preminger was all about, the Austrian case. Where we are
having grave difficulty is, first of all, where do you draw the
line and who draws the line? Apart, of course, from it having
been decided at some superior level in a court.
(Mrs Bahl) Yes, okay.
Bishop of Portsmouth: If he is pushing you,
it is not that we are being very distinct. We are trying to help
and sometimes the truth emerges from that kind of seeming conflict.
Chairman: Thank you for coming to my rescue.
Bishop of Portsmouth
554. The nice bishop rescuing the nasty judge.
(Mrs Bahl) No, this is an issue that also exercises
us because equally for the Hindu community, freedom of expression
is as important as protection from incitement to racial hatred.
In terms of how this is dealt with, we have got a model in this
country. You have got a political person, the Attorney General,
who will decide the prosecutions that are there that need to be
brought under this. We are not particularly comfortable with that
model and quite clearly, given the decision about the Home Secretary's
powers on Monday, it is only a question of time before political
intervention, the judicial system will be stripped away more and
more. So that is on the up. We think that this is something that
should actually be left to develop in the courts. I say that because
I do have a great deal of respect for the judiciary in this country.
They are fair minded. They maybe need a little more training and
awareness perhaps in relation to different religions, if we were
to introduce this concept of religious discrimination and religious
hatred. You would need to have a greater level of awareness. But
if it is left there, it develops as a body of law which is then
an evolving and a dynamic process. I think that is probably the
best way to do that, but you have to have that with a commitment
and a will to prosecute and take seriously where there are examples
of incitement to racial hatred because, unless you have a constant
stream of prosecutions, that body of law will never develop.
555. I am not going to tempt you into a discussion
about how you direct the jury on this or indeed what preliminary
ruling the trial judge might have to make. One does have to think
about those things too, doesn't one?
(Mrs Bahl) But it is also a process of evolution and
as more and more cases are there, the awareness increases. If
we look at, for example, laws relating to rape in this country
and how they have developed and the consciousness and awareness
has developed around the laws of rape and violation of a woman's
rights. That has taken a period of time. None of this is going
to be achieved overnight, but if the process is there and it is
enforced and prosecuted with a level of seriousness and the messages
are there, then I think it will lead to a greater evolution.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: I wonder if I
could ask one question?
Chairman: Yes, please do. After that I want
to get back to the basic text that he wanted to put over to us.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach
556. Can I ask you, if there was to be a new
law, how would that law relate to the fourth example which you
gave, Mr Kallidai, about the medical organisation?
(Mr Kallidai) I do not foresee such a so-called offence
can be legally enforceable in the sense of the word and therefore
it really boils down to individual responsibility in making such
557. You would say that one is individually
responsible and if an ethos could be created which would prevent
statements like that being made, that would do it?
(Mr Kallidai) That is right, yes.
(Mrs Bahl) It is the deterrent effect and it would
also be, in the Christian Medical Fellowship, what they do after
this stage. This is like an incitement to their people toand
a criticism of Hinduism, but it is the actions they also take
in consequence of that philosophy that themselves would probably
fall within the ambit of incitement to racial hatred.
Chairman: One more question, the Earl of Mar
and Kellie. I do want to go back because he had not finished,
but let's have your question first.
Earl of Mar and Kellie
558. Following on the question about the Christian
Medical Fellowship, it struck me from what you read out was that
they were just making unpleasant statements, to put it mildly,
but they were not actually telling any lies about the Hindu religion
in the sense that they were not actually putting out any false
remarks which were possibly going to distort people and mis-educate
them. Could telling a deliberate lie in order to misinform people
(Mr Kallidai) I think to say that all Hindus are spiritually
lost and blind and that Hinduism is a false religion is not something
that most Hindus would agree to be a truthful statement, so to
speak. So we come into areas of greyness here where one religion
believes one statement to be true and another religion believes
it to be untrue. Which is one reason why the law of blasphemy
cannot work because what is blasphemous to one religion is the
truth to another. So the reason why I pointed this out was merely
to illustrate this point that one billion Hindus would not agree
with the statement that the Christian Medical Fellowship people
have made. So therefore would vilification be an alternative to
legislate and if vilification is what needs to be legislated,
then how do you prove intentionality? Because it has been proved
by race legislation that it is very easy for the victim, because
it depends on the victim now to say that this act of aggravation
is a race related aggravation, but the police and the criminal
prosecution service find it very difficult to prove that this
was indeed a race related aggravation. Therefore we find that
the number of cases registered for race related crimes is huge
but the number of prosecutions is minuscule. Therefore, what the
Select Committee, we feel, should look into is in case verification
of offences, religious offences is actually considered as an act,
is how do we prove intentionality which is so difficult to prove.
559. I make no promises, but I think you may
have said some things that will get reproduced in our conclusions,
in one shape or form. I think a very valuable contribution indeed,
but you had not finished with the things that you wanted to say
(Mr Kallidai) I thought it would be helpful perhaps
to go through some of the questions that the document you have
sent us raised and then provide some feedback on that. One of
the questions was "Are there any issues under the heading
of religious offences which the Committee could or should examine?
In particular, are there any issues in relation to offences arising
out religious discrimination?" We feel that the definition
of religion by itself is not very clear in any legislation that
is proposed or already existing and it seems very difficult also
to define religion because of fear of what might be left out or
what might be included inappropriately. Therefore, the question
is; do we define some parameters within which a religious belief
or a lack of religious belief is defined or left undefined? Which
is a question that needs to be addressed by the Select Committee.
One way forward was also to let case law interpret the definition
of religion. So we are a bit concerned about the lack of clarity
on this issue.