On 21 January, Viscount Younger of Leckie replied to a Written Question (WQ HL187) from Lord Vinson (Con) asking Her Majesty’s Government “what steps they are taking to ensure that criticism of any religion is not regarded as a hate crime”, as follows:
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is important that all have the right to speak freely, and make legitimate criticisms, and that a strong legal framework provides the appropriate space to do so. Equally, hatred or prejudice against an individual because of their religion will not be tolerated.
The Crown Prosecution Service uses definitions agreed with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to identify religiously motivated incidents/crimes: ‘Any incident/crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s religion or perceived religion.’ This allows space for legitimate criticism.
Under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, which covers the offences of stirring up religious hatred, there is a freedom of expression defence contained in Section 29J, which confirms that nothing in the Act ‘… prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult, or abuse of particular religions, or the beliefs or practices of its adherents.’
The Government will continue to protect people’s legitimate rights and freedoms whilst also remaining committed to tackling hate crime.”
Lord Vinson followed up the reply (WQ HL727); and on 3 February Lord Younger made a further response, as follows:
“Once a hate crime has been reported it is for the police to investigate whether a hate crime has been committed, in line with the relevant legislation, and to refer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether there should be a charge.
In order for a crime to be charged and prosecuted as a hate crime, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) uses the legal definitions contained in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (CDA 1998) and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (CJA 2003).
The CPS assesses each case on its individual facts and circumstances. Prosecutions can only be brought in line with legislation and in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
The CPS legal guidance on hate crime recognises the right to freedom of expression set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The legal guidance makes it clear that it is not only speech which is well-received and popular that is protected but also speech which is potentially offensive, shocking or disturbing. The CPS seeks to balance the right to freedom of speech and expression against the duty of the state to act proportionately” [emphasis added].