Select Committee on Selection Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-570)



  560. Would you leave it to the poor old courts?
  (Mr Kallidai) I think we would have reasonable confidence in the British legal system to leave it to court, but at the same time I think there need to be certain parameters within which such an open definition or non-definition of religion is left to the courts. For instance, we cannot have Manchester United being termed as a religion because we need to have certain parameters. Buddhism, for instance, some sections of Buddhists could say that they do not have an organised form of worship. So we cannot even come to terms by defining religious belief as a system of worship, for instance, because that might not be acceptable to some people. Yes, leaving it to court law, or case law and leaving to the courts, might be an acceptable way forward, but we would emphasise, once again, that it needs deliberation and consultation with the communities and with legal experts because it is a grey area that we are concerned about.
  (Mr Dasa) Could I just flag that up a little bit? Indarjit Singh also mentioned education and we have mentioned education at the start as well, as a fundamental behind this. The judiciary would need basic education in, at least, who are the religious communities in this country and what are their practices, so they are not shocked in court having to defend something or adjudicate objectively on some issue that is all new to them. The issue of education is very important and it is an issue of the chicken or the egg; who trains the trainers, who develops the legislation, who defines religion. The fact that we have this consultation is very important. As Ramesh has said, there is a recognition that this is part of the development and we have a way to go and how we adjudicate what religion is and who adjudicates that, and religious people certainly have to be involved. Religious leaders from the communities in this country. We have to start with someone. We may not have everyone represented on the first Committee, but we need something to start the process. Politicians cannot do it, the judiciary by themselves cannot do it and the religious by themselves maybe cannot do it, but maybe for them to come together and that is a message to the whole community that this is being taken seriously.
  (Mrs Bahl) There are models for training of the judiciary. There is the quite extensive training that took place before the implementation of the Human Rights legislation in this country. There has been training on increasing ethnic awareness amongst the judiciary. So it is not as if this would be pioneering. We would build on models that are there and this would just be a development of that.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  561. I wonder if I could again be seen to be a devil's advocate, not a role that I naturally put on. It seems to me, at this stage in the conversation, that we are left with the issue being an SOP, somebody else's problem and you can load onto this about public awareness, you can load this onto somebody else. It is the Bishop's role to take a strong lead, as long as I support what they say. We will dump it onto parents and that is something else. So we will have courses on parental skills. We will dump it onto the poor teachers and that is something else for them to do. It seems to me, particularly from what you are saying, Mr Rsi Dasa, from your perspective in what you were saying earlier about the difference between the Hindu religious tradition and Western Christianity, though perhaps not Eastern Christianity, we drive wedges between religion and philosophy, religious experience and philosophy, but the only way it seems to me that we can solve this problem that you are trying to highlight, is if we actually share in each other's worship and in the modern secularist view of religious education, if I can put it that way, which can come across to those who have religious beliefs as being rather dry and arrogant, rather antiseptic, that is foreclosed. It seems to me that in preparing people for life in the kind of society in which we live now, this is actually going to be very difficult. Who takes responsibility?
  (Mr Dasa) We are interested in different areas, but I totally agree with you the kind of education we have at the moment does not fulfil the criteria. If you are learning Hinduism, it does not prepare you to meet a Hindu and Hindus who go through that education do not recognise themselves. So the religious education we have at the moment does not reflect well on the religious life of the country. So it is not good education. That is part of the problem because the agendas are mixed. If you want a truly multi-cultural agenda in this country, all the cultures need to be involved in setting the agenda because the question of who sets the agenda is primary. The fact that we are coming after all this time to this, this is part of that development. I think we are going in the right direction. We cannot rush it because it needs to be an organic development, a proper cultural development which needs to be based on education. So education is a very important part of this and it could be an important recommendation of this Committee, along with the legislative agenda that you have, but you could recommend that this will not work in the long term without X, Y and Z but I think this does need to be addressed. I think you make an important point.


  562. Now, I have got a rule about these sessions that we do not go on beyond an hour and a half. Mr Kallidai, you have had a rotten time because you have not ever been allowed to develop any of your points. Could you pick your two best remaining points and tell us about what you have to say because I think after that we will have to stop, but that does not mean to say that you cannot reduce the rest of it to a written form. If there is something that immediately emerges, I would very much like to hear it.
  (Mr Kallidai) My Lord Chairman, can I just continue one point from the previous unfinished one and then I will pick on two points. As far as religious discrimination is concerned, the employment directive have been imposed from December 2003 is a very, very good and courageous move, but that still leaves offences caused by religious discrimination by sourcing it through education training or housing, for instance, completely un-redressable, so to speak. That is another area of concern that we do have, that there is a gap in the laws of religious discrimination which means that education, training, housing and goods and services are still not enforceable by way of—

  563. They are not proved.
  (Mr Kallidai) That is true. Which is outside the purview of this Committee then.

  564. That is the trouble, you see.
  (Mr Kallidai) Yes. In that case I would like to touch on two other points. Incitement to religious hatred and enforcement. These are the two points I would like to cover. Incitement to religious hatred, one of the questions that have been asked is whether the present amendments proposed by Lord Avebury in his Bill are appropriate and are there any other ways to achieve the same objective, any special provisions needed to cover the publication of hate material on the Internet. We believe that addressing religious hatred under the existing legislation on racial hatred, as proposed by the Government, will clearly provide a short term solution. However, in the long term, it may not address all of the concerns, all of the issues that might come forward by the nature of the offences. For instance, any legislation on religious hatred should definitely take into effect the long term effects, but an option that could be examined, in this instance, would be to bring together all the various bits and pieces of legislation concerning religious discrimination, religious aggravation because, at the moment, there is a Crime and Disorder Bill and other legislation being put forward for religious discrimination and there is the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act which is dating back from previous centuries and so on. So there are various bits and pieces of legislation. After having discussions with many different people in the Hindu community, we think therefore that such legislation in bits and pieces is not appropriate, but we could consider having a single law on the lines of the Race Relations Act, something like the Faith Relations Act, so to speak, that would cover religious incitement to religious hatred, that would cover religious discrimination and any other such offences as a single piece of legislation. That could then come under the scrutiny of an equality commission. I think there is also a move forward for a single equality body at the moment and that would then include also how such laws are enforced and the Crown Prosecution Service and the legislators could then be educated and trained under the purview of these laws and documents could be produced and training could be conducted. So that is one suggestion that we do have, because a number of difficulties have been seen in the enforcement of the race laws as well, which probably equally apply to any new law on religious discrimination and relations as well. In answer to the other question on Internet, for instance, there has been a lot of unregulated and inflammatory statements made on the Internet and the problem here is that most of these might be conducted from offshore service providers as well.

  565. Yes, we know.
  (Mr Kallidai) Therefore how can Britain, in effect, have control over the content of some of these inflammatory things probably, in most cases, perhaps addressed to the British population. We feel very strongly that there should be some regulatory monitoring of hate material on the Internet from the country where the Internet site is hosted. So if, for instance, there are Internet sites hosted from Britain, the service provider is from Britain or from actual physical hosting of such sites from Britain, then there should be some regulatory framework by which certain legal restrictions can be placed upon such site holders. The other thing that can be done and which should be promoted as good practice is that Internet service providers should self regulate themselves and monitor themselves and such good practice should also be encouraged. I have various material here on the Internet and we will actually give out some material on the inflammatory nature of some Internet sites. As far as enforcement is concerned, one of the question asked was; can we identify what problems are there over reporting and investigating offences, particularly from a historical perspective of race related offences and would these apply to provisions for religious hatred? I have had discussions with many people who have been involved in the area of race relations and offences, particularly the CRE and so on and we found some of the problems that they encountered for prosecution, investigation and reporting of race related offences was that the level of confidence victims of crime have in the process, in the system, is not very high. Therefore they may not be forthcoming enough to come and report some of these, because most of the cases that report a racially aggravated crime, but the prosecution is only for an ordinary crime and so there is a lot of ground level problems. Another problem is that the victim might not have enough information on how to report that as a race related crime, in which case such a problem would also apply to a religiously aggravated crime. Training for people within the criminal justice system is also important. Then another problem which was actually reported was there is a fear of reporting race crime simply because there is a fear for future victimisation from the same criminals. Therefore, we feel that this can be corrected by providing assurances of protection to the victims and by effective monitoring of the criminals so that they do not come back and have future crimes of that same nature conducted on the same victims. Victims of race crime are usually law abiding and shy, a generalised statement, and therefore they may not be forthcoming in reporting such crimes. Which is another social factor really, in one sense. The investigation is often hampered because it is very difficult to establish the difference between a non-racial crime and an ordinary crime. Again, we come to the grey area of intentionality which is so hard to prove in a court. So therefore we feel that if these things are carried over to reporting and enforcing religious crimes, then the police, the criminal prosecution service and the legislators should have some kind of careful consideration on whether the police will monitor religious offences together with race offences, or whether they will be monitored by slightly different parameters, because they do overlap but they are also different issues. And whether issues that are distinctly religious offences are understood and monitored by the criminal prosecution service.

  566. That has given you an opportunity of saying some of the things, at least, that you wanted to. Does that give rise to any questions from my colleagues? Oh, I am so sorry. You are hidden behind the shorthand writer.
  (Mr Dasa) I just wanted to draw your attention, I am sure you are aware of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 75, which deals with—

  567. Yes, we know about it.
  (Mr Dasa) It is a very good piece of legislation that has been implemented very well in Northern Ireland. Because it came in and it dealt with nine areas and it was about discrimination in these areas, so it was not just you have a Race Act, you have a Faith Act and then you have nine Acts, but age, race, religion, debility, political, marital, gender, sexual discrimination, etc, it put everyone on their toes immediately and immediately when it came to religion, people began to realise that they did not know what religions existed in Northern Ireland. There were two religions, of course, but that is all they knew and the two were one. So the Inter-Faith Forum in Northern Ireland was able to provide training on every level of society; to the police service, to the Northern Ireland Executive, to the Northern Ireland Office, to the judiciary, to all the hospital trusts, on every level, because they realised they were totally ignorant and now it was legislation, now they have to do it. It was a half a day's training and every single organisation got back and wanted further training and to be included as part of the training process. A very, very simple little model but just to show how effective good legislation can be in a very difficult social circumstance, which we do not have here and maybe that is part of the problem. It is reshaping civil society in Northern Ireland, which needs it after the Good Friday Agreement. So I just point out that that is a model that works and in the faith situation has actually been effective. All the faiths contributed to the training process.

  568. I want it to be on the record that there was a great deal of agreement from Mr Kallidai to what you were just saying, because his nodding will not get onto the transcript. I think perhaps I had better draw this to a close. You wanted to say one more thing. Yes, please do.
  (Dr Bhan) Just a quick comment. The fact that vilification takes place, the fact that acts are undertaken motivated by religious hatred is as deeply offensive to those who are non-assertive and peaceful as to those who take the law into their own hands, but the result of that is, in the latter case, police and the establishment respond to assuage their hurt feelings and we get left behind. I would suggest that the fundamental human right of belief and worship and practice should be restricted and should be sacrosanct, as far as I am concerned, but it should not cross beyond the point where it adversely affects another individual, particularly another individual of another faith. That ought to be a straightforward guideline for those who will interpret legislation and implement the legislation in cases of agreement.

  569. I think how to do it is exactly the problem that confronts us.
  (Dr Bhan) Well, Human Rights has initiated the right to believe and worship, but it also includes the right to propagate and promote and it is the right to propagate and promote which is very great and leads to the not so pleasant activities.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  570. It reminds me of an 18th Century definition of enthusiasm. That is exactly the conundrum.
  (Mr Kallidai) My Lord Chairman, I would like to just recap by reading out a concluding statement from our submission, which is just four sentences. We believe that the existing law on blasphemy be repealed and replaced with a more comprehensive law, a modern law, that applies to all faith communities. The second point is that the UK should undertake a comprehensive review of all civil and criminal laws on religious freedom to evaluate whether they are in line with the UK's obligations on international law and consider that in a single law that covers blaspheming, religious offences, discrimination and public order. The third point is offences arising from religious discrimination should cover not just offences at work places, but also offences arising from purchase of goods, services, education and housing. However, of course, that is a civil matter. Adding religious hatred to existing legislation on racial hatred would provide a short term solution, but a more comprehensive legislation, that is the single legislation that we proposed, needs to be considered. The last point is that issues relating to enforcement, regulatory monitoring and investigation of religious offences needs careful consideration and consultation with the community because we do not feel that the community has been adequately consulted yet on these points.

  Chairman: What an excellent summary. Thank you very much. We were not entirely sure that witnesses from the Hindu background—let alone, I may say, from Northern Ireland—were going to be able to come or be willing to come to give evidence before us. If there was ever any doubt about the desirability of it, it arises from what you have been able to tell us this evening. You have been immensely helpful, all of you. You have given us a lot to think about and I think, in fact, you have developed our thinking, in the course of what you have said, in a way that is going to be extremely useful, though to what end, at the moment, I cannot tell you. We are going to try very hard and we listened very carefully to you and we will read it again. Thank you very much indeed, all four of you for coming.

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