Priti Patel announces new £800 penalty fine for house parties
A source in the Home Office has confirmed that Home Secretary Priti Patel is looking at how to reform hate speech laws which were brought in by Tony Blair’s Labour government to initially tackle racism and homophobia. It is understood that officials have spoken to MPs about changes with many Tory backbenchers pushing for a complete repeal of the laws.
The campaign to remove them is being spearheaded by North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen but also has the backing of the powerful Common Sense group of Conservative MPs which this week also pushed for universities to be forced to protect free speech.
Writing for the Sunday Express, Mr Bridgen highlighted the case of businessman and ex-police officer Harry Miller who had a Humberside police officer turn up at his workplace to “check his thinking” for getting involved in a transgender debate online after an individual took offence at a retweet and reported it as a hate crime.
Shockingly, the case ended up in the high court where it was dismissed by a judge who compared the police force’s actions to the Gestapo.
Mr Bridgen noted that hate speech laws were also the backdrop for companies like Twitter, Youtube and Facebook banning people like President Donald Trump or companies like Talk Radio.
He said: “It is far from an easy task as regulation of language is inherently subjective however we cannot leave this matter up to the discretion of big tech bosses and High Court judges.
A source in Home Office confirmed Priti Patel is looking at how to reform hate speech laws
“They are not helped by British law defining hate crimes as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’.
“To protect free speech and democracy, this legislation must be repealed.”
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who was first elected in December 2019, is also leading efforts within the Common Sense group to overhaul hate speech laws.
He is currently writing a chapter on law and order for a policy and vision book being produced by the group which includes a section on the problems with so called hate speech laws.
The hate speech laws were brought in by Tony Blair to tackle racism and homophobia
Mr Hunt told the Sunday Express how political opponents in Suffolk used the law to make vexatious allegations against him not long after he was elected after he used a column in his local newspaper to point out that statistically certain crimes in his area were being committed by a particular ethnic group.
He said: “Leftwing campaigners were posting a link for people to report me to the police. It was completely political.
“I was interviewed but no charges were brought because I had said and done nothing wrong.
“As an MP I was at least in a position to take a stand against it but others would not be.”
He added: “These laws are being used to attack free speech.”
It is understood Tory backbenchers are pushing for a complete repeal of the laws
There are concerns that the Scottish nationalist government under Nicola Sturgeon plans to extend hate speech to the point that people can be tried for comments made over their own dinner table.
There was also anger that the Metropolitan Police interviewed historian David Starkey and activist Darren Grimes over a conversation they had on slavery in a podcast.
A source close to Ms Patel warned that complete repeal could give police forces “free reign” in pursuing hate crimes.
“Our worry is the police are using them for going after things that aren’t crimes,” the source added highlighting the Grimes case before confirming that “reform” is on the table.
Ms Patel warned that complete repeal could give police forces ‘free reign’ in pursuing hate crimes
Comment by Andrew Bridgen
A quote of the late great Ronald Reagan came to my attention recently in which he states “If fascism ever comes to America, it will come in the name of liberalism.”
Considering the current battles going in in the Western world over free speech, hate legislation and the rise of cancel culture, these words now look strangely prophetic.
This is because we find ourselves in a situation where a combination of poorly thought out hate speech legislation together with the rapid expansion of big tech has outstripped the ability of the world’s legislators to regulate it, and we have sleepwalked into the creation of the kind of big tech power which would be beyond the dreams of many communist dictators.
A power that for all of his faults, silenced the President of the United States whilst still providing a platform for regimes such as Chinese Communist Party who are overseeing genocide within their own Country.
It does not stop there, as when President Trump attempted to move to another social media network, it was removed from the Amazon, Apple and Google platforms. Whilst disagreeing with the actions of Donald Trump in recent weeks, it should not be the decision of big tech to silence him and this is the failure of legislation.
This is recognised by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey who stated that blocking politicians like this “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation”.
We saw something similar in the UK recently with the temporary removal a few weeks ago of the Talk Radio channel from the google owned Youtube for violating YouTube’s community guidelines.
It was reinstated later that day with the explanation that ‘we quickly remove flagged content that violate our Community Guidelines, including COVID-19 content that explicitly contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization.
There are concerns the SNP plans to extend hate speech to comments made over the dinner table
As Talk radio rightly said “This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.”
This again is an insidious attack on freedom of speech being facilitated and in part led by the big tech companies and aided by ill thought out hate speech legislation which is constantly used by big tech companies to hide behind when making judgments on what constitutes offence.
Last year businessman and ex Police Officer Harry Miller had a Humberside Police Officer turn up at his workplace to ‘check his thinking’ for getting involved in a transgender debate online after an individual took offence at a retweet and reported it as a hate crime. The case was taken to the High Court where when describing the actions of Humberside Police, the judge drew from three of the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in modern history.
‘In Great Britain, we have never had a Cheka, a Stasi or a Gestapo,’ and ruled that the force unlawfully interfered with Mr Miller’s right to freedom of expression when they turned up at his place of work.
Mr Bridgen notes that hate speech laws were the backdrop for Twitter banning Donald Trump
But as Mr Miller rightly stated after the trial ‘the court also said that the policing guidance used by forces across the UK, which defines a hate crime as ‘any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender’, was lawful. Bizarre as it sounds, according to this guidance, currently no evidence of hate is required for the hate element of a hate crime or hate incident; indeed, there is no need for any incident at all.’
One of our greatest comic actors and writers Rowan Athkinson also makes the point on the use of hate legislation when he recently stated
“The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society.
“It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled’.
The campaign to remove hate speech laws is being spearheaded by MP Andrew Bridgen
“It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn.
“So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future.”
The Humberside case is clearly bonkers and I don’t think those who pay their taxes and precepts to fund the Police would expect them to be doing or be a priority task. It’s clear that big tech and the Police are overreaching themselves and the UK and other Countries need to redefine the guidance and regulations given big tech and the Police.
The EU through its Digital Services Act is looking to require big tech companies to do more to combat hate speech whilst reinforcing free speech but it likely to take two years to negotiate, and the benefit of Brexit is we can move much faster than this.
It is far from an easy task as regulation of language is inherently subjective however we cannot leave this matter up to the discretion of big tech bosses and High Court judges. They are not helped by British law defining hate crimes as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’ To protect free speech and democracy, this legislation must be repealed.
Like many hastily rushed through covid regulations, it is a law that can be interpreted in whatever way you like and it is easy to see how the Police and Big Tech can become over zealous in its application. Unlike the SNP who are aiming to extend even further the powers with the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, this Conservative Government should be seeking to better define hate crime in a way that restrains the power of big tech and avoids the Police wasting precious time on frivolous and trivial matters.
Without these urgent legislative changes and despite Brexit being delivered in full only weeks ago, we will have actually have lost our freedom and our democracy.
- Andrew Bridgen is a North West Leicestershire MP