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
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 , 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
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