So long non-crime hate incidents, and thanks for all the memories

I have spoken about the reporting by police of non-crime hate incidents before. Notably, in this post regarding South Yorkshire Police amongst others. In the linked article, I commented:

Even if you haven’t broken the law, the police will still log an incident and make every effort to make sure your lawful activity will be stopped… So, as a preventative measure, South Yorkshire police are going to investigate non-crimes just in case they might have escalated into actual crimes. I struggle to see how this is not totalitarian. Even within the bounds of the law, you may face police action and involvement.

I further noted:

A ‘hate incident’ is one in which is ‘perceived to be motivated by prejudice or hostility against a person’s race, faith, disability, gender or sexual identity’ (my emphasis added). So, it matters not what you intended to say. It makes no difference what you actually meant. If another person (not necessarily even the person to whom you were directing your comments) perceives hatred, then a ‘hate incident’ has occurred, even if there was no malicious intent.

I went on to highlight two important things about this. First, that there was no possible defence against it. Another’s perception – despite what has taken place being entirely lawful – would be recorded and marked against you, even so far as showing up on enhanced DBS checks. Despite obeying the law, you might find employment considerably harder to come by simply because someone else felt a particular way about something you said, irrespective of what you intended.

Second, I noted that there were no explicit boundaries to what might be deemed hateful. I even outlined an real life incident in which the apparent lack of a smile whilst walking past someone in a corridor was treated, seriously, by the police as an act of hate merely because another person perceived it was so! If there are no boundaries to where hate might be perceived, anything we say or do might be deemed hateful and has a chilling effect on free speech and expression. Anything – including entirely lawful words and behaviours – might be logged as hate incidents, with no opportunity for defence or removal from one’s record.

Thankfully, it would seem, the Court of Appeal have overturned a ruling from the High Court on such police guidelines. You can read a report in the Guardian here. An ex-police officer, Harry Miller, was visited by police after somebody complained about his allegedly transphobic tweets. He was visited by an officer from Humberside police at his workplace in January 2019 in response who asserted: “I’m here to check your thinking.” 

The Times (paywall) report:

The Court of Appeal ruled unanimously today that the “hate crime operational guidance” from the College of Policing unlawfully breached Harry Miller’s human rights.

The ruling calls into question potentially thousands of other matters recorded since the guidance was issued in 2014.

They go on:

In today’s ruling, Dame Victoria Sharp, one of England’s most senior judges, said: “The net for ‘non-crime hate speech’ is an exceptionally wide one which is designed to capture speech which is perceived to be motivated by hostility . . . regardless of whether there is evidence that the speech is motivated by such hostility.

“The volume of non-crime hate speech is enormous and the police do not have the resources or the capacity to investigate all the complaints that are made.

“There is nothing in the guidance about excluding irrational complaints, including those where there is no evidence of hostility and little, if anything, to address the chilling effect which this may have on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

Why does any of this matter? Ultimately, it matters because it impinges on the ability to say things that others may not necessarily want to hear. That someone might perceive something as hateful is not grounds for police action or record-keeping.

I have argued before against the outlawing of ‘hate speech’ and the banning of certain words and thoughts. That is not because I think those things are acceptable – I dislike them as much as most people – but because I do not think we should be inhibiting people’s right to say what they want, no matter how horrible and offensive we may find it. Whilst there may be limits on words that are injurious to a person – such as slander and libel – offensive, irritating and even hateful words do not constitute, nor cause, material injury of themselves. I am loath to ban people saying things, even when I absolutely abhor what they are saying. As offensive as I find it, I do not believe people should be dragged through court of blasphemy and offending Christian sensibilities. I do not believe such should be classed as ‘hate crimes’ even if they are said with a clearly hateful edge. Free speech means very little otherwise and we have always understood it on such terms.

Given that, I find the recording of non-crime hate incidents even more serious. Police may involve themselves in the lives of ordinary people despite the fact that they have no even broken the law. Whilst the judges recognised there was validity in recording certain statistics, holding information against a person who has not broken the law was not a legitimate way to do it. The obvious means of recording these statistics is not to classify them as ‘non-crime hate incidents’ but to simply record allegations of so-called hate crimes and record whether further action was taken when such allegations are made.

Whilst that may seem obvious, the reason this doesn’t happen is because of a political desire to increase the apparent problem of hate incidents. If both hate crimes and non-crime hate incidents can all be classified under the heading ‘hate incidents’, then even vexatious and illegitimate allegations can be recorded. That, in turn, allows more resources to pour into this particular cause du jour as ‘hate incidents’ are seen to be on the rise. There are lots of vexatious claims of alleged hate that, under current guidelines, would help to bolster stats that are then used to bring in further restrictions, particularly on those who demur from mainstream secular orthodoxy.

For Christians, this does matter. Even at the heart of our gospel is a claim to exclusivity, and a non-pluralistic, universalist view, that could easily be perceived as hateful by some. Never mind that no hate is intended, it merely being a reflection of what we believe the Bible says, non-crime hate incidents need only be perceived in the eye of the beholder. Likewise, traditional Christian orthodoxy on ethical matters is increasingly being viewed as hateful. Vexatious claims by activists against churches are on the rise. The current police guidelines only encourage such allegations.

This court ruling is a shot in the arm to those who wish to dissent from secular cultural orthodoxy. That is not only good news for Christians, but for anybody who does not subscribe to every jot and tittle of the cultural zeitgeist. Whilst Christians may often seem to be in the firing line, few people who adhere to any religion will not be in the firing line. Moreover, even non-religious secularists may find there are area on which they demur. They, too, would find themselves with problems. Most people, at some point or other, depart from the apparently mainstream cultural worldview at points. This removal of non-crime hate incidents from police guidelines will go a long way to protecting anybody who does so at any given point. And that should be good news for us all.