Minister of Justice fast tracking ‘hate speech’ legislation review

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of legislation to look at ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’. This could possibly lead to more specific laws to cover them.

However ‘fast-tracking’ does not necessarily mean a sudden knee-jerk lurch to draconian laws as some are saying is already happening. Little hopes to have aa proposal by the end of the year, and that would then have to go through Cabinet for approval and then through Parliament, so any changes look like being at least a year away – in election year,

1 News: Andrew Little plans fast-track review of hate speech laws

Justice Minister Andew Little says he’s fast-tracking a law review which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change.

Mr Little said the Christchurch shootings highlighted the need for a better mechanism to deal with incidents of hate speech and other hateful deeds.

It isn’t unusual for an unprecedented crime to prompt a rethink of things that could be contributory factors (it happened after the Aramoana massacre). Firearm regulation and law changes are actually being fast-tracked, not just a review of them – and order in Council has already reclassified many types of semi-automatic weapons, and it is expected the legislation will go before Parliament next week.

He has asked justice officials to look at the laws and he was also fast-tracking a scheduled Human Rights Act review. “The conclusion I’ve drawn as the minister is that the laws are inadequate and I think we need to do better,” Mr Little said.

Mr Little said the current laws dealing with hate speech and complaints about hate speech and discriminatory action that relate to hateful expression were lacking.

The law in the Human Rights Act related to racial disharmony, but it didn’t deal with various other grounds of discrimination, he said.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was put in place to deal with online bullying and other unpleasantness, but it didn’t tackle the “evil and hateful things that we’re seeing online”, Mr Little said.

He said the government and the Human Rights Commission will work together, and a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate.

Note “a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate”. It will be important to have a decent public debate about whatever is proposed.

“There will be important issues to debate. There will be issues about what limit should be put on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

“We should reflect on where the lines need to be drawn and therefore, whether the laws should be struck so that they’re effective and provide some protection to people who’re otherwise vulnerable.”

I think it is going to be quite difficult trying to define hate speech and hate crime in legislation. And also to get a reasonable balance between protection from hate speech and free speech.

Stuff: Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings

Currently, hate-motivated hostility can be considered an “aggravating factor” in sentencing, and staff can note when a crime was motivated by a “common characteristic” such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Overall, there is no way of knowing how many offences are hate crimes and police do not even routinely record the ethnicity of victims.

Little said he had asked the Justice Ministry to look at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws needed to be changed or added.

“I certainly think that the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate,” Little said.

The tolerance for what had been considered acceptable had been too high, he said. Ethnic minorities needed to not only be accepted, but embraced and welcomed.

“It’s timely to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that.”

Somehow a legal line has to be drawn between fair reporting and debate, and speech aimed at hurting, intimidating, alienating.

The Human Rights Commission collects “race-related complaints” but says it has an incomplete picture of the problem. It has been calling for a national recording system to be set up.

The commission’s chief legal advisor Janet Anderson Bidois said there were “grave anomalies” in the current law.

“For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation,” she said.

“We maintain that a discussion about our current hate speech laws is overdue, and that urgent action is required in relation to the recording of hate crimes.”

This will be a challenge for all of us.

Especially as the review has been prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks, a lot of discussion will focus on Islam and Muslims, who have been ostracised and targeted in generalised attacks that go further than criticism.

Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of  all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.

Claims of justification because ‘it is just facts’ don’t wash – it is easy to group selected ‘facts’ (often actually quotes from historic texts, which aren’t facts) in a derogatory or fear-mongering manner.

The same tactic can be used by cherry picking bits out of the Old Testament to smear modern Christians, but it is done far more to blanket smear modern Muslims who have a wide variety of practices and cultures.

It will be hard to stop hate and fear and intolerance of other cultures, races and religions – this can be ingrained in some people.

It will also be hard to prevent this hate and fear and intolerance being used to attack groups of people, while still allowing for relatively free speech and open discussion about things that are pertinent to life in New Zealand.

This is also a challenge for social media and blog moderators.

I will do what I can to encourage debate proposals to change hate speech and hate crime laws, but preventing these discussions from becoming hateful or from mass targeting where it is not warranted by circumstances.