Failures and success of ‘hate speech’ law in the UK

With a review of hate speech laws under ‘urgent review’ in New Zealand (not that urgent, expected to report back to Parliament late this year or early next year after consultation) there has been interested in how similar laws have worked in the United Kingdom.

Of course examples of seemingly ridiculous applications of the UK laws have been publicised.

David Farrar (Kiwiblog) Government looking to introduce hate speech laws

The UK is a great example of how well intentioned laws end up criminalising many different types of speech. Some examples:

  • An evangelist, was convicted because he had displayed to people in Bournemoutha large sign bearing the words “Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord”.
  • A man was arrested in Cardiff for distributing pamphlets which called sexual activity between members of the same sex a sin
  • Harry Taylor sentenced to six months prison (suspended) because he left anti-religious cartoons in the prayer-room of Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport on three occasions and the Chaplain complained
  • A 19-year-old woman was convicted of sending a “grossly offensive” message after she posted rap lyrics that included the N-word on her Instagram page
  • An Irish TV writer was visited by the Police because he used the pronoun “he” on Twitter to refer to a transgender woman.

Lowering the bar from exciting hostility will lead to court cases like the ones cited above. If the Government proceeds, it will be buying a huge battle.

There is already a battle brewing – for good reason. I have serious doubt that a clear and fair law can be written to protect people against potentially damaging speech, and also protect people against frivolous legal jeopardy.

But there is one example of how the law seems to have worked reasonably well in the UK.

BBC News – Jayda Fransen: Ex-Britain First deputy leader convicted over hate speech

A former deputy leader of far-right group Britain First has been convicted of stirring up hatred during a speech about Islam in Belfast.

Jayda Fransen, 33, was found guilty over a speech at a rally in August 2017.

Britain First leader Paul Golding, 37, and two other Englishmen, John Banks and Paul Rimmer, were acquitted on similar charges.

All four defendants were on trial over speeches given during the ‘Northern Ireland Against Terrorism’ event two years ago.

They were accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words intended to stir up hatred or arouse fear.

The court heard that Fransen told those gathered at the rally that there was no moderate version of Islam and that: “These people are baying for our blood.”

She added: “Islam says every single one of you wonderful people here today deserves to be killed.”

Those attending the rally were then told it was time for the world to come together against “the one common enemy”.

The judge told the court: “I’m satisfied these words were intended to stir up hatred and arouse fear.”

That sounds like a fair call from the judge to me.

He also found her guilty over a separate, filmed incident at a Belfast peace wall in December 2017.

On that occasion, the court heard that Fransen declared the “Islamification” of Britain will lead to similar walls to separate the two sides.

She claimed the country was “descending into civil war” and said it was time to “rise up against the biggest threat against the entire world”.

Confirming a conviction for that episode, the judge said: “I’m satisfied the words were menacing in nature.”

It sounds like Fransen is pretty much trying to incite civil war. I think legal consequences for that are a reasonable response.

(I have heard similar speech to this on New Zealand blogs).

Golding, of Beeches Close in Anerley, London, allegedly referred to a mosque in Newtownards as part of claims about Islam’s colonisation.

In his speech, he said: “We have got a problem with one religion and one religion only, that is Islam.”

Rimmer, of Modred Street in Liverpool, allegedly told the crowd Muslims were colonising and taking over British cities.

The 56-year-old was said to have warned about “a wolf coming down the track”.

He claimed, however, that he spoke about love and friendship.

The judge dismissed the case against Golding, Rimmer and Banks, 61, of Acacia Road, in Doncaster, England.

He said some of their speeches were “ugly” but had not crossed the line into being illegal.

And this seems like a reasonable differentiation – ugly speech that falls short of justifying a conviction.

New laws, like the ‘hate speech’ laws, need differentiations like these decisions to be made to establish a reasonable idea of what is legal and what is illegal.

There is always a risk of some prosecutors and some judges going too far, but the UK legal system, which ours is modelled on, has to work with what legislators (politicians) give them.

Hopefully our politicians can learn from the missteps and oversteps in the UK and avoid them here.

12 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  2nd April 2019

    I guess Churchill would have been prosecuted for warning about Hitler. On the other hand Hitler would have been jailed for attacking Jews but only if he could have been brought to Britain to do it.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  2nd April 2019

      Hardly, Hitler was committing appalling atrocities and those were real, not scaremongering.

      He didn’t just ‘attack’ Jews; he killed 6,000,000 .

      Don’t trivialise the Holocaust and reduce it to the level of hate speech.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  2nd April 2019

        I’m talking pre-WW2 when Chamberlain was claiming peace in our time and Churchill was saying get ready for war with Hitler. That was when it was hate speech.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  2nd April 2019

          People knew about what Hitler was doing; it’s a myth that they didn’t. There were enough people who’d got out and told the tale. It was in the papers in the UK and the US.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  2nd April 2019

          The Holocaust began before the War.

          People now forget that WWI had only been over for 20 years then. Men who’d been there didn’t want their sons to go through the same thing as they had. Women didn’t want to lose sons as well as husbands. Nobody who’d live through WWI would have wanted a repeat of it.

  2. Gezza

     /  2nd April 2019

    Earlier this morning, searching out of interest for the recently & often cited verse in the Quran that says killing one innocent man is like killing all mankind (or words to that general effect), so Islam forbids murder & is a peaceful religion (Quran 5:32) I came accross this, from 2009, on a BBC site on religions – link below. I’m posting the full text here.

    It seems a reasonable attempt to set out relevant matters in a balanced & objective manner.

    “Islam and war

    Islam sets down clear guidelines as to when war is ethically right, and clear guidelines as to how such a war should be conducted.

    In brief, war is permitted:

    in self defence
    when other nations have attacked an Islamic state
    if another state is oppressing its own Muslims

    War should be conducted:

    in a disciplined way
    so as to avoid injuring non-combatants
    with the minimum necessary force
    without anger
    with humane treatment towards prisoners of war

    Muslims must only wage war according to the principles of Allah’s justice.

    Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan.
    Qur’an 4:76

    Islam allows war in self-defence (Qur’an 22:39), to defend Islam (rather than to spread it), to protect those who have been removed from their homes by force because they are Muslims (Qur’an 22:40), and to protect the innocent who are being oppressed (Qur’an 4:75).

    But some Muslim thinkers in the past, and some more radical Muslim thinkers today, take a different view. They say that other verses in the Qur’an, the so-called ‘sword verses’, have “abrogated” (revoked or anulled) the verses that permit warfare only in defence. They used these ‘sword verses’ to justify war against unbelievers as a tool of spreading Islam (Qur’an 9:5, 9:29).

    Others take this further and regard non-Muslims, and Muslims who don’t conform rigorously to the Islamic code, as non-believers and thus as “enemies of God” against whom it is legitimate to use violence.

    But the idea of a total and unrestricted conflict is completely unIslamic.

    Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.
    Qur’an 2:190

    Islam is in favour of peace and against violence. Murdering the innocent leads to punishment in Hell:

    If anyone killed a person – unless it was for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed the whole people
    Qur’an 5:32

    The aims of war

    The Qur’an emphasises that war should be fought only for noble motives without seeking any earthly reward:

    Those who readily fight in the cause of God are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of God, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense.
    Qur’an 4:74

    The conduct of war

    Islam bans the killing of non-combatants (Qur’an 2:190, above), or of a combatant who has been captured.

    Muslims are forbidden from attacking wounded soldiers (unless the wounded person is still fighting).

    The Prophet’s view of non-combatants is shown by a hadith in which Muhammad sees a woman killed in the battlefield and condemns the action.

    When an enemy is defeated he should be made prisoner rather than be killed:

    So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates.
    Qur’an 47:4

    Abu Bakr (the First Caliph) gave these rules to an army he was sending to battle:

    Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path.
    You must not mutilate dead bodies.
    Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man.
    Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful.
    Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food.
    You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone
    Abu Bakr [

    This will no doubt be in a Hadith, one of many, which are rated as to their reliability strong or weak, & I have an idea Abu Bakr is not recognised as the legitimate
    caliph by the Shiia, possibly other sects. Some Muslims reportedly only recognise the Quran, or particular Hadith (Bukhari & Muslim) – Gez]

    A noble example of ideal Muslim conduct of war is the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. Although a number of holy Muslim places had been violated by Christians, Saladin prohibited acts of vengeance, and his army was so disciplined that there were no deaths or violence after the city surrendered. The residents were taken prisoner, but their ransom was set at a token amount.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/islamethics/war.shtml

    A problem immediately evident is that Islamic terrorist mass murderers, as does Tarrant, are easily able to interpret & present themselves, as individuals, as conducting or continuing a war against those they interpret as enemies or oppressors.

    Another of the many problems with religious scriptures – not just far right tropes & individuals’ “manifestos.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  2nd April 2019

      All religions have fanatics who take a few verses and distort them*, I suspect. Christianity does.

      * ignore those that they don’t like

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  2nd April 2019

        *and ignore

      • Gezza

         /  2nd April 2019

        Agreed, & complicating factor is sometimes that those who go on a murdeous rampage in Europe cite revenge for Muslims killed by Western troops fighting Muslims in the Middle East.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  2nd April 2019

          It’s not that extreme in Ulster, but it’s there. You did x to some of ours, we’ll do y to some of yours.

  3. Pink David

     /  2nd April 2019

    “I have serious doubt that a clear and fair law can be written to protect people against potentially damaging speech, and also protect people against frivolous legal jeopardy.”

    You cannot write a law to ‘protect’ people against potentially damaging speech full stop. The idea is profoundly foolish. The UK shows exactly how these laws will actually be used.

    It is entirely kafkaesque.

  1. Failures and success of ‘hate speech’ law in the UK — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition