Examination of witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, MR ROBERT
220. In plain terms, there is something for
the lawyers to get their teeth into once the Bill becomes law,
without committing yourself too far?
(Mr Walsh) The fact that judicial review is being
excluded is a separate thing from saying that judicial oversight
has been excluded, which is certainly not the case. There are
clear appeal rights set into SIAC. It is an issue about channelling
where those judicial challenges come but not in any way seeking
to remove them.
David Winnick: No doubt it will be argued further
at the committee stage of the Bill.
Chairman: Could we turn briefly to one or two
of the other measures in the Bill, starting with religious hatred?
221. Whose idea was this to have an offence
of religious hatred? Where did the proposal first come from? Who
asked the government to do it?
(Beverley Hughes) It is something that we considered
in the context of events after 11 September, the public order
issues that have also arisen in this country in some of our towns
over recent months and looking back it is also something particularly
in relation to religious aggravation offences that was argued
for from people on all sides of the House when the Crime and Disorder
Act was being debated in 1998.
222. I distinguish between aggravation and incitement.
Are you saying that this proposal was in the government's mind
for some time?
(Beverley Hughes) I think there has been an ongoing
debate, has there not, that has arisen at various times over the
past few years as to whether religious hatred ought to be included
alongside racial hatred in the incitement provisions of the Public
Order Act and the anomalies, some would argue, that some groups
of peopleJewish people and Sikh peoplehad by dint
of court decisions being embraced as racist under the existing
legislation; whereas other groups of people were excluded. That
has been something that has been around for some time that we
have been aware of.
223. In what ways is the existing law ineffective?
Can you tell me a mischief that the government is trying to cure
that is not covered by existing law?
(Beverley Hughes) In terms of incitement?
(Beverley Hughes) Clearly, the existing law does not
cover groups that are not racial groups.
225. I am talking about an offence. Tell me
a mischief. A group is not a mischief.
(Beverley Hughes) The production of literature, for
instance, that is clearly inciting people to hatred and likely
to result in public disorder, the kind of propaganda that certain
groups in this country would otherwise produce. There have been
prosecutions, particularly in relation to literature.
226. Handing out leaflets which are very offensive
and nasty by a mosque?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes.
227. That mischief is covered by section four
of the Public Order Act.
(Beverley Hughes) It is behaviour, as you know, likely
to incite hatred and result in a situation of public disorder.
We are simply proposing to extend the provisions where people
do that in relation to a racial group to people who do that in
relation to groups that are not racist but are religious or indeed
people who have no religion.
228. There have been very few convictions in
relation to religious hatred.
(Beverley Hughes) There have been about 40 over the
229. Four in the last three years. That is right,
(Beverley Hughes) I am not sure about the last three
years. It is about four a year on average.
Mr Malins: I think it is four or five in the
last three years. Is it very difficult to prosecute?
Chairman: We know of seven prosecutions and
four convictions in the year 2000.
230. I have had a PQ with a different answer
but it is very small. Do you know why that is? Is it very difficult
(Beverley Hughes) It is difficult to prosecute in
the sense that the threshold of evidence is a fairly high threshold.
Nonetheless, I do not think that the merit of the existing legislation
is in terms only of the number of prosecutions. We do feel that
the deterrent effect on the extent to which some of these racist
groups would go otherwise without this legislation is a significant
one in that, whilst they still produce propaganda, they are mindful
of the chance of prosecution and that does limit to some extent
the excesses to which they would otherwise go.
231. If the racial hatred ones are difficult
to prosecute, will not the religious hatred ones be equally difficult
(Beverley Hughes) It is not only the number of prosecutions
and we are not necessarily talking about lowering the threshold.
It is actually the deterrent effect that having those offences
on the statute book is having. We are convinced that it is having
a deterrent effect in relation to racial hatred and similarly
we hope for the same effect in terms of religious groups and people
without religion as well.
232. There have been thousands of successful
prosecutions for racially aggravated offences, have there not?
(Beverley Hughes) There have been about 21,000 cases.
That is clearly where there is a specific offence against a specific
individual or set of circumstances. It is much more straightforward
in the sense of the threshold of evidence and the nature of the
evidence, both the offence itself and the racially aggravated
component of it. In my view, you also have to see the two together.
In a sense, I think the incitement provisions, albeit they are
public order provisions and not specific offences, are supporting
one another. They are doing different things in relation to these
233. You have not in the Bill defined religious
belief. Is there a reason for that?
(Beverley Hughes) We do not think we need to. As you
will notice, the Bill provides for incitement on the basis of
religion or on the basis of people having no religion. We do not
feel we need to get into the business of drawing up a list of
beliefs that are recognised in some statutory way as religions.
That would be a matter that the courts will take a view on in
any individual cases that are brought forward. It is not necessary
for us to do that.
234. From reading all the press articles about
who might be caught and who might not be caught by this clause,
do you think this is a very complicated area? Has it taken a lot
of time to try to get this right?
(Beverley Hughes) Not in terms of the technicalities
of the Bill because it simply involves extending existing provisions
to include religious groups in addition to racial groups.
235. You are happy for it to be part of an emergency
bill that is going to be debated for just a few days and law by
(Beverley Hughes) We are.
236. Did you consider levelling the playing
field by abolishing the blasphemy laws?
(Beverley Hughes) Representations were made during
the process of our considerations about that. The reason that
that is not in the Bill is because not just that provision itself
but other things that would have to be alongside that are outside
the scope of an anti-terrorism bill and were just too wide for
us to consider and would generate a debate which is a different
debate than the debate we need to have in the context of the measures
of this Bill, which are about security and greater protection
in relation to terrorism.
237. In a way, that is my point. Religious belief
is in the Bill but blasphemy laws are about religious belief.
You cannot put abolition of the blasphemy laws in this Bill because
it makes it too long and not an emergency bill. Does that not
really mean that actually religious hatred, religious belief,
blasphemy laws should be looked at separately from an emergency
piece of legislation?
(Beverley Hughes) No. The way in which you need to
see the provisions in this Bill is not about religion per se.
It is about the incitement provision. It is a public order provision
and the religious aggravation is about the commission of criminal
activities which may or may not be linked to terrorism. It is
about crime and about disorder and the kind of behaviour that
can incite public disorder and crime. That is why those measures
are in this Bill. Blasphemy is a completely different debate.
There is read across in some ways but it takes you into a very
different debate which will obviously be a very important debate
for people in this country and it seems to me it would be wrong
to try and sweep that issue up in a bill about terrorism and crime.
238. You said this was designed to get people
who incited religious hatred that could lead to disorder. The
Satanic Verses clearly incited religious hatred and it did
lead to quite a lot of disorder. Would it be caught by this Bill?
(Beverley Hughes) It would not be. That is another
argument. There has been one instance of that publication.
239. How do you know it would not be caught?
Lots of people feel very strongly that this was a book that incited
religious hatred. Presumably, once this becomes law, they will
go to the Office of Public Prosecutions and say, "Will you
prosecute this man for this book because he has incited religious
hatred and caused disorder."
(Beverley Hughes) I say it would not be caught because
those decisions have already been made. That book has been published
for some time and I am not going to get into a debate on The
Satanic Verses, I am afraid.