Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from the Board of Deputies of British Jews


  1.  The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Select Committee on Religious Offences. The Board is the representative body and voice of the British Jewish community. It was founded in 1760.

  2.  We have previously made written and oral submissions on related themes to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry on Racially Motivated Attacks and Harassment (1993), Lord Lloyds's inquiry into Legislation Against Terrorism (1996), the Home Secretary's Consultation Document on Legislation Against Terrorism (1998), and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the War Against Terrorism (2002).


  3.  The Jewish community is covered by the provisions of the Race Relations Acts. This was established by the judgment in Mandla v. Dowell Lee [1983], 2A.C.548, HL which recognised the Jewish and Sikh communities as distinct racial groups. Subsequent cases brought before the courts have upheld the ruling. As a result, the Jewish community is afforded protection against incitement to racial hatred.

  4.  The Board is generally satisfied with the format of the current legislation following the amendments to Part 3 of the Public Order Act in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. The Malicious Communications Act 1998 and its subsequent amendment offer further protection. Together these have removed the legal and linguistic barriers which previously had hampered prosecutions..

  5.  We are however increasingly concerned by the systematic failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the offence of incitement to racial hatred. There have been comparatively few prosecutions over the years, despite the circulation of substantial amounts of inflammatory material. A Parliamentary Answer from the Attorney General on 1 November 2001 disclosed that since the current law came into force in 1988 there have been in total only 61 prosecutions and 42 convictions.

  6.  Much of this inflammatory material, although by no means all, is currently produced by Islamist individuals and groups. Our concern is shared by leading members of the Hindu and Sikh communities whose members have also suffered as a consequence of such incitement, which on occasions has led to inter-communal violence between members of their communities.

  7.  In recent years the Board has referred to the police and/or the Attorney General many examples of publications and leaflets produced by Islamist organisations, which we believe were in breach of Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986.

  8.  It is the experience of the Board that failure to prosecute literature which incites hatred inevitably results in violence against our community. This is the intention of those writing and publishing the literature, no matter where it is distributed. When in the mid-1990's the then Attorney General eventually consented to prosecute incitement from the Far Right, such material stopped being published, and reported incidents declined.


  9.  Because of the relative ineffectiveness of the current laws against racial incitement, we have not actively campaigned for specific laws to make incitement to religious hatred a crime. Our deliberations have also been influenced by the difficulty in defining and defending religion. There will be no problem in defining the main faiths but defining "new religions" and cults will be problematic.

  10.  We have also been concerned that schismatic tendencies within a religion might prompt opposing factions to use such legislation to attack or undermine one another.

  11.  The UK is now faced with a growth in inter-religious friction, sparked in large measure by conflict in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. This has led to the dissemination of propaganda deliberately attacking Jews qua Jews by Muslims. The Sikh and Hindu communities have similarly been targeted. We are in touch with representative bodies within these communities and can provide examples of such incitement.

  12.  There are good reasons to doubt the effectiveness of any new laws against religious incitement, as they would be modelled on the current laws against racial incitement. Nevertheless, we recognise the imbalance in the exciting arrangements, which afford less protection to some major faith communities (eg Moslems and Hindus) than to Jews and Sikhs. We have therefore expressed support, in both public and private fora, for their demand for legislation to cover incitement to religious hatred.


  13.  The Board of Deputies recognises that the existing legislation against blasphemy relates to the established Church and serves to protect the Christian faith. To extend this law to other faiths would raise inherent contradictions. We therefore believe that the law should remain as it is.


  14.  The Board of Deputies welcomes the proposal to introduce new laws to combat incitement to religious hatred, but notes that this must be matched by the political will to prosecute offenders. Otherwise any new powers risk becoming as ineffective as the existing laws against incitement to racial hatred.

17 June 2002

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