Memorandum from The Hindu Council UK
1.1 The Hindu Council UK is an apex body
supported by over 300 Hindu organisations and temples in the UK
and seeks to integrate Hindus socially, culturally, economically
and politically with British society, whilst maintaining the Hindu
identity. The Hindu Council UK has actively worked with over 1
million British Hindus in various consultation exercises, notably
on the issue of religious discrimination, for which a document
(Proposed changes to the legislative framework for religious
discrimination) was submitted to the Department of Trade and
Industry in January 2002. This submission to the House of Lords
draws upon consultation with community leaders and legal experts
from Britain and covers only the specific questions submitted
by the Select Committee on Religious Offences through its letter
dated 19 November 2002.
1.2 Some of the key Principles of Hinduism
that are conducive to the promotion of peace and co-existence
in society are inclusiveness, tolerance, non-violence and respect
for other religions.
2. SCOPE OF
2.1 We welcome the Inquiry being conducted
by the Select Committee and the two strands being considered regarding
the current blasphemy law and the potential introduction of a
new offence of inciting religious hatred. Such an inquiry is long
2.2 We believe that the opportunity should
also be taken to undertake a comprehensive review of all civil
and criminal laws on religious freedom to evaluate whether they
are in line with the UK's obligations on international law and
whether they reflect both changes in the composition of British
society and modern attitudes, particularly on diversity. Such
a review should also include but not be limited to the following:
(a) The historical context for such legislation
and how it has changed,
(b) What level of awareness exists about
the existing provisions on religious freedom amongst the affected
minority communities as well as those who administer and apply
(c) How effective the existing provisions
are in tackling religious hatred,
(d) How often the existing provisions have
been utilised and with what impact.
2.3 It will, of course, not be possible
to conduct such a comprehensive review within the timescales of
the Select Committee's deliberations. Nevertheless, this review
is one that should be undertaken urgently to avoid continuation
of the piecemeal and potentially inconsistent approach that has
characterised the legislative approach so far. We hope that the
Select Committee will give consideration to recommending that
such a review should be conducted as a matter of urgency.
2.4 We also believe that the historical
context of existing legislation, the level of awareness of those
administering the laws as well as the effectiveness of that legislation
in operation are key factors which the Select Committee should
consider when making any recommendations about the extension of
existing laws to cover religion or other Christian groups or other
2.5 We also believe that while examining
issues under "religious offences" particularly with
reference to offences arising out of religious discrimination,
the following should be considered:
2.5.1 The definition of "religion"
is not clear, and appropriate consideration and consultation would
be required to identify the parameters within which religious
belief (or the lack of it) can be defined or left undefined.
2.5.2 Offences arising from religious discrimination
in work places will have a right of redress from December 2003,
when the European Union Directive's Article 14 will be enforced
in Britain. This however still leaves a major flaw in the legislation,
whereby religious discrimination encountered in education, training,
goods and services, housing and other areas cannot be redressed
by legislative means.
3.1 The fundamental point is that the common
law of blasphemy is inherently discriminatory by only providing
protection to the Anglican faith. Such an inequality cannot be
3.2 There is however a fundamental need
to protect all religious beliefs from religious hatred of the
type contained in the common law of blasphemy.
3.3 The Blasphemy laws have been developed
through the common law and in a cultural context of protecting
the Anglican faith that has been the major religion in the UK.
As it is a little used law, one of the best features of the common
law ie development and updating of the law through frequent application
has been lost.
3.4 As the laws on blasphemy have only ever
considered the mainstream faith of the majority community, there
has been no scope to develop the interrelationship between religious
and racial hatred. This is a fundamental factor that must be recognised
in any legislation introduced to protect the minority religious
3.5 In 1985 the Law Commission recommended
that it should be abolished and in 1989 the Home Office undertook
that there would be no more state prosecutions for blasphemy.
3.6 It is bad law, out of touch with the
needs of modern British society, archaic and discriminatory. Even
if the law is amended to cover other faiths, it will carry with
it the baggage of its history and unsatisfactory application.
3.7 We therefore believe the laws on blasphemy
should be repealed but replaced at the same time with a clear
and modern criminal law to protect all religious faiths, and explore
whether such a law should prosecute crimes considered vilificatory
instead of blasphemy.
4.1 We believe the starting point should
be the principles contained in Article 9 of the European Convention
on Human Rights, namely Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion.
4.2 Article 20(2) of the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, to which the UK is a signatory,
provides a good basis for any proposed legislation. It provided
that "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred
that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence
should be prohibited by law". The starting point of any new
law should be to comply with this Article.
4.3 Adding religious hatred to the existing
legislation on racial hatred as proposed by the Government and
Lord Avebury would clearly provide a short-term solution to fill
the current void. However, there are instances where mere additional
use of the religious hatred alongside existing laws on racial
hatred may not always be appropriate for investigation and prosecution.
Therefore any legislation on religious hatred should be adopted
after studying their long-term effects and due consultation with
community and legal representatives. An option that could be examined
for consideration would be the enactment of a single act on Faith
Relations that would cover the various issues being separately
dealt with under different laws relating to religious offences,
blasphemy, discrimination and public order. A number of factors
must be considered if the proposal to add religious hatred to
racial hatred is adopted:
Prosecutions for incitement for racial hatred
are few, only 61 between 1998-2001. The reasons for this should
The fears expressed about encroachment of the
right of freedom of speech at the time this legislation was being
considered have not materialised in practice. This should be taken
into account in dealing with similar arguments raised in the context
of religious hatred.
No racial breakdown of these prosecutions is
apparently availableagain we need to understand why. There
is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that persons of colour have
been prosecuted under this provision.
The existing application of the provisions of
the Public Order Act need to be examined and monitored as again
they have a historical context to ensure that they do operate
without discrimination. It would be dangerous to extend the legislation
without ensuring that its practical application does not address
the mischief it was designed to meet.
Both the police and the CPS are making concerted
efforts to deal with race issues and prejudice within their respective
organisations. However, a culture change of such magnitude cannot
be achieved overnight. Effective measures must therefore be introduced
to monitor the application of the new legislation including at
least maintaining records of ethnic breakdown of complaints made
and prosecutions brought.
The right for the Attorney General to initiate
prosecutions or to consent to them is retained under the proposed
legislation. The Attorney General is a political appointment.
However, we do not believe that such decisions can currently be
left to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
We support the proposals for safeguards to monitor
the use of this power by the Attorney General. We agree that these
should be introduced as part of the new legislation.
The Internet has become an unregulated area
that has facilitated easy communication of hate material. This
can be curtailed by:
Regulatory monitoring and censure
of hate material by common laws enacted in the country where the
internet site is physically hosted.
Self-regulating policies and procedures
adopted by Internet Service Providers through supervision of site
contents and refusal to host sites that contain hate material.
4.4 There are many examples of incitement
to religious hatred in the UK. Many of these instances are documented
and have been reported through media and community organisations.
A short list of some incidents has been compiled by the Hindu
Council UK and can be produced on demand.
5.1 Problems encountered in investigation
and prosecution of race related crimes could apply to religiously
aggravated crimes. At present, there is a big difference in the
number of race crimes reported and the number of prosecutions.
Some of the reasons are:
1. The level of confidence that victims
of crime have in the system is not high.
2. Ground level problems including victim's
lack of information on reporting race related crime.
3. Training for all the people involved
in the Criminal Justice System is important.
4. Fear of reporting race crime due to fear
of future victimisation. This can be corrected by assurances of
protection of victims and monitoring of criminals.
5. Victims of race crime are usually law
abiding and shy. They may not be forthcoming in reporting the
6. Because of the nature of the event, the
prosecution has to be cleared by the Attorney General and the
process of investigation and prosecution is slow.
7. Investigation is often hampered by the
process of finding evidence that differentiates a non-racial crime
from a racially motivated crime.
5.2 Many of the above problems will be encountered
in the enforcement of religiously motivated or aggravated crimes.
There are many issues that are unique to religious offences that
will need to be dealt with in a manner quite distinct from racially
motivated crimes. Issues that need careful consideration are:
whether the Police will monitor religious
offences together with race offences together (or as a different
whether the issues that are distinct
to religious offences are understood and monitored by regulatory
bodies and legislation adequate for this purpose.
These issues should be resolved after extensive
consultation with faith communities.
6. PLACES OF
6.1 We have very little information about
this provision and even less about how often it has been used
and how effective it has been. We believe that it is better to
have one codified law which sets out the rights available to tackle
religious hatred and for there to be proper monitoring of how
this legislation works in practice.
7.1 In summary, we believe that:
(a) The existing Law on Blasphemy be repealed
and replaced with a more comprehensive law that covers all faith
(b) The UK should undertake a comprehensive
review of all civil and criminal laws on religious freedom to
evaluate whether they are in line with the UK's obligations on
international law, and consider enacting a single Law that covers
blasphemy, religious offences, discrimination and public order
(c) Offences arising from religious discrimination
should cover not just offences at work places, but also offences
arising for provision of goods and services, education and housing.
(d) Adding religious hatred to the existing
legislation on racial hatred would provide a short-term solution,
but a more comprehensive legislation as envisaged under point
(b) above needs to be considered urgently.
(e) Issues relating to enforcement, regulatory
monitoring and investigation of religious offences needs careful
consideration and consultation with the community.
The above submission was made by:
Ramesh Kallidai, General Secretary, Hindu Council
UK and Executive Committee Member of the Inter-faith Network of
Kamlesh Bahl, Former Chairwoman, Equal Opportunities
Commission and Former Vice-President, The Law Society.
Dr Giridhari Bhan, President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Shaunaka Rsi Dasa, President, Oxford Centre
for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies and Executive Committee Member
of the Inter-faith Network of the UK.