Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-536)|
WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2002
520. It is important for us to understand this,
because we have got the Director of Public Prosecutions coming
to give evidence and obviously we want to know from him why there
have been so few prosecutions under the 1986 Act. What I wondered
is whether the Sikh community have got experience of reporting
incidents to the police which they think constitute good reasons
for bringing a case and for being confident that a conviction
will occur and still finding that the police are not taking action,
or that the police cannot get the cases past the Crown Prosecution
(Dr Singh) No, we do not have evidence of that, but
it is more anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately we have not worked
in that way of collecting and trying to pursue things in that
way. This is information we get from different Gurudwaras "Look
what has happened here". Perhaps we should have been more
active in pursuing these things.
Baroness Richardson of Calow
521. One of things that I think we have heard
from a lot of people is that it is not hatred that they fear so
much as the sort of ridicule and vilification of the things that
we hold most dear.
(Dr Singh) Yes.
522. Would you have any suggestions that you
could possibly make, that you think could be enshrined in law
that would protect religions from that kind of behaviour?
(Dr Singh) Any new Act should encompass that. While
I say the blasphemy laws should go, they seem to be too dated,
there should be something similar which allows freedom of discussion,
real discussion, which is so important we should get behind the
superficial niceness of dialogue to real discussion because a
lot of things that we say are religious are really cultural things
that should have gone years ago. We need to get that to go anywhere,
but there should be protection against ridicule and that would
be more I am more concerned about the media doing that than individuals
in the street because the media is so powerful, it can do a lot
of harm in that way.
523. Dr Singh, the point that you are making
is eminently reflected in European law by which we are now all
(Dr Singh) Yes.
524. In that there should indeed be room for
copious debate and discussion about these things, but there is
a line over which you should not step. Who is to set the line?
(Dr Singh) I think the example of the European Law
is something that should be there. That the line has got to come
through judgments in the courts in the end, but it should be clear
if something is considered deeply offensive to a religious community,
it should be a criminal act.
525. Yes, but who decides where the line is?
You see, it does not start in Europe, it starts here.
(Dr Singh) It starts here and we have to set our own
line, but it is going to change with time because these boundaries
of the worst behaviour, we hope, change so that we take a more
serious view of these things as time goes on and as education
goes, but it is, as far as I can understand it, the people who
write the law that must set those initial boundaries and those
who interpret law.
526. You could be addressing them, of course.
It could be us.
(Dr Singh) Yes. That is right, but the tests are the
hurt it causes.
527. You get differences in the perception of
what could be
(Dr Singh) But then, against that we must have the
second, it must be offensive. People could, of course, say that
anything is offensive, you should not say this or you should not
say that, but there should be a second test of the real damage
done as well. It should not be just a cursory statement that "I
feel offended by this". There should be a quantification
of the damage that is alleged to have been caused.
528. Dr Indarjit Singh, we have got one and
half more minutes of your time before you have to go somewhere
else, could I just ask you to help us in this; quite separate
from an attack either on the tenets of faith or upon members of
a group, there is, on the statute book at the moment, the criminal
offence of doing something on religious sites, not necessarily
involving anybody being there, but causing grave offence when
the people who would otherwise have been there find out about
it. It is our last question. This is something that we are seriously
considering because it seems to have a validity, the graffiti
you see, of criminal damage, but an act desecration which does
not cause a breach of the peace and does not cause any damage
is still something that may be highly objectionable to members
of the faith. Have you got any examples of anything like that
happening in the Sikh community, in a Gurudwara?
(Dr Singh) We have had examples of desecration outside
the Gurudwara but if this "places of worship" refers
to within a place of worship, riotous, violent and indecent behaviour,
we do not have any examples of that.
529. You do not have any examples?
(Dr Singh) No.
530. Outside you said you did.
(Dr Singh) Outside on the walls, but within the premises
there is nothing. Except that sometimes Sikhs argue amongst themselves,
but I think goes anywhere.
531. I think on the outside it is covered by
(Dr Singh) It is and that is not sufficientlyif
I may, in my last few seconds, cover another point on the need
for proper law and religious discrimination, that the armed services,
for example, discriminate against Sikhs for wearing turbans, the
Air Force particularly. The reasons given are not really valid
at all but it is very difficult to counter them. The Air Force
in India allows Sikhs to wear a turban with protective head gear
and there is in problem. Why should it be a problem in this country?
We should not be fobbed off with cursory statements that this
is a regulation. They should be subjected to an Act that protects
religion in its fullness.
532. Does anybody else have questions for our
witnesses? I think we must let you go
(Dr Singh) Can I make one last comment?
533. Yes, I am not trying to stop you but I
appreciate that you have got another appointment.
(Dr Singh) That is very kind of you and I will run
down the corridor. It is on discrimination itself. This fragmentary
approach to discrimination, that where there is pressure from
a particular community at a particular time or we must do something
about this to protect society, we will have a Race Relations Act
where there is a pressure of equal opportunities, we must have
an Equal Opportunities Act. Or religion, we must look at religion.
It should be, I would like to see law moving towards a situation
where there is protection against discrimination full stop and
people must give very good reasons why they discriminate against
any person on grounds that have nothing to do with the job or
the place they are in. I would like to see us moving in that direction
because I feel the Race Relations Act, for example, is discriminatory
to have a Race Relations Act and not protect religion is discriminatory.
534. You have invited me to ask another question
and it is just too bad, I am afraid. First of all, have you looked
at the EU Directive on discrimination in civil law on a whole
number of grounds which the Government said they are proposing
to implement? Have you also looked at the draft framework directive,
which is in the process of discussion between member states of
the EU including, of course, this country, about criminalising
certain forms of discrimination?
(Dr Singh) I have looked and I would like to see us
move in that direction.
535. Would you like to see if you can find out
about these things a little bit more and let us know in writing
subsequently whether you have any further views to offer about
this, because we are, of course, immensely concerned that we should
have the right background. We will know that the civil discrimination
side is the underlying problem, but that is not what this Committee
is talking about. We are talking about offences and neither is
a draft framework directive which actually deals with offences.
(Dr Singh) I would be very happy to do
536. Would you? Because we would be very grateful.
(Dr Singh) Thank you very much. Thank you all.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for coming.