News from Britain about the policing of hate crime laws should be must holiday reading for Justice Minister Andrew Little, who for several months has been considering making hate crime an offence in this country.
Stuff in March revealed a series of racially-motivated incidents in Christchurch after 50 people were killed in mosque shootings.
The incidents included a Muslim woman being denied entry to a bus and a swastika spray-painted on a fence in the spot where the alleged gunman was arrested.
We would have thought New Zealand had laws enough to deal with the miscreants in those cases but Little saw the opportunity for political grandstanding and declared he was fast-tracking a widespread review of this country’s existing hate speech legislation.
The review would include deciding if hate crime should be established as its own separate offence, as it is in the United Kingdom.
But one British initiative – the establishment in London of a police unit for tackling online hate crime – has brought charges against less than one per cent of internet trolls it has probed.
According to the Daily Mail:
Scotland Yard’s ‘online hate crime hub’ has logged 1,851 incidents since its launch in April 2017 – but just 17 cases, or 0.92 per cent, resulted in charges.
Only seven have led to prosecutions, Freedom of Information figures show, with three more cases pending a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Those prosecuted include trolls found guilty of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic abuse online.
The £1.7 million scheme, launched by London mayor Sadiq Khan, has yielded just 59 other positive results, including youth referrals, harassment warnings and apologies.
A Conservative London Assembly member, Susan Hall, who sits on the crime and policing committee, criticised the hub as ‘an exercise in spin over substance’.
‘The money splurged could have been used to invest in additional police officers and protect Londoners from a whole host of crimes, including hate crime offences.’
Scotland Yard said the unit now deals with both online and offline cases, reviewing every hate crime reported to the Met on a daily basis.
Some 1,851 online hate crime cases were logged up to August 2019, with 741 marked as still live or ongoing.
The low number of charges is thought to be due to the high charging threshold for online hate, and the difficulties investigators face in obtaining information from social media companies.
Hate crime offences recorded in England and Wales hit a record high 103,379 in 2018/19 – up 10 per cent from the previous year and more than double the 2012/13 figure of 42,255.
But the Home Office statistics do not distinguish between crimes committed online and offline.
The Crown Prosecution Service also said it does not hold data which identifies the number of hate crime prosecutions where offending occurred online.
Hate crimes are defined as those motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of five personal characteristics: race or ethnicity; religion or beliefs; sexual orientation; disability; and transgender identity.
But some police forces log other types of hostility under hate crime, including misogyny and incidents where victims were targeted because of their link to an ‘alternative sub-culture’, such as goths.
And such are the sensitivities of people today that more categories are being proposed.
Good Morning Britain, a TV breakfast show, upset some viewers with an item in which Dr Sonja Falck, a psychotherapist, suggested using terms such as ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ should be termed a hate crime, similar to racism and homophobia.
‘I think people find it startling because very high IQ people are a minority group in society who are very much ignored, they’re not understood and largely neglected,’ she told Ben Shephard and Ranvir Singh.
‘It’s the case that very high IQ people are bullied at school for example, they’re a target for being bullied quite viciously. ‘Things are changing, words do evolve after time, but there are many words like brainiac, egghead, nerd, that mean socially awkward and contemptible.’
But hey. It seems British judges are capable of exercising common sense.
A judge in Britain’s High Court has said the “right to be offended” does not exist.
Mr Justice Knowles made the remark on the first day of a landmark legal challenge against guidelines issued to police forces across the country on how to record “non-crime hate incidents”.
The College of Policing, the professional body which delivers training for all officers in England and Wales, issued their Hate Crime Operational Guidance (HCOG) in 2014, which states that a comment reported as hateful by a victim must be recorded “irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element”.
Mr Justice Knowles expressed surprise at the rule, asking the court: “That doesn’t make sense to me. How can it be a hate incident if there is no evidence of the hate element?”
He added: “We live in a pluralistic society where none of us have a right to be offended by something that they hear.
“Freedom of expression laws are not there to protect statements such as ‘kittens are cute’ – but they are there to protect unpleasant things.
“Its utility lies in exposing people to things that they do not want to hear.”
The judge was sitting in a case brought against the college by Harry Miller, a 53-year-old man from Lincoln, who claims the HCOG is unlawful because it infringes on his right to freedom of expression.
Miller, a married father of four, was investigated by Humberside Police earlier this year after a Twitter user complained that he shared a “transphobic limerick”.
Even though no crime was committed, his sharing of the limerick online was recorded as a “hate incident” and he was described as a “suspect” in police reports, the court heard.
Miller, once an officer for the Humberside force, accused the police of “creating a chilling atmosphere for those who would express a gender critical position”.
“The idea that a law-abiding citizen can have their name recorded against a hate incident on a crime report when there was neither hate nor crime undermines principles of justice, free expression, democracy and common sense,” he said.
Lawyers representing the College argued that the guidelines are necessary to resolve social tensions that could escalate into crimes.
In another case, a judge halted Britain’s first transgender hate crime prosecution.
Miranda Yardley, 51, had been accused of harassing a transgender activist on Twitter.
But District Judge John Woollard dismissed the case after a one-day hearing, saying there was simply no evidence.
Campaigners called the decision a victory for free speech, while the accused claimed police were being used to ‘enforce a political ideology’.