LONDON—The use of Britain’s so-called “hate crime” laws has been eyed with suspicion by champions of free speech for some time. When the government announced in September that it was considering adding misogyny to the list of “hate crimes,” and as some police forces piloted recording non-crime “hate incidents,” watchdogs labeled it a step too far toward policing of thought. Rank-and-file police officers also objected.
Now, the nation’s top police chiefs are also pushing back, arguing there are simply more important things to focus on, such as growing knife crime, record homicide levels, and the fact that only 1 in every 20 burglaries is solved.
In a speech on Oct. 31, Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, said that misogyny should not be added to what many police officers feel is an ever-growing list of hate crimes.
She said that while it was “a concern for some well-organized campaigning organizations,” it should not be a matter for police.
“Police recorded crime has risen 9 percent,” she said. “Homicide has hit the highest point for more than 10 years. There’s been a 12 percent rise in knife crime. Robbery has gone up 22 percent and vehicle theft 7 percent.
“I want us to solve more burglaries and bear down on violence before we make more records of incidents that are not crimes.”
‘Thoughts Should Not Be Criminal’
Last summer police chiefs were asked to start recording hate incidents, including misogyny, when no crime had been committed. Some refused.
Other top-ranking police officers rallied behind Thornton’s remarks, including the head of London’s Met Police, the most senior police officer in the country.
The Home Office in September asked the Law Commission to review hate crime laws and to consider adding women to the list of legally protected characteristics such as race, sexuality, and religion.
Index on Censorship said making misogyny a “hate crime” would do little to protect women from abuse and violence.
“Laws that criminalize speech are deeply problematic,” they said a statement. “In a free society, thoughts should not be criminal no matter how hateful they are. Yet laws that make ‘hate’ criminal—in a well-meaning but misplaced effort to protect minorities and persecuted groups—are on the rise.”
In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing. Hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. Report it and put a stop to it #HateHurtsSY pic.twitter.com/p2xf6OLoQZ
— SouthYorkshirePolice (@syptweet) September 9, 2018
Later reports suggested the Law Commission was also considering including hate crimes against the elderly and against men.
Writing in the Telegraph, Sergeant Richard Cooke, chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, said: “Are we really going to be required to routinely record, and potentially act on, incidents like a builder’s wolf whistle or an insensitive comment towards an elderly driver?
“I do not believe for one second that this is what the public, outside of the politically correct ‘court of Twitter,’ expects or wants us to do.”
Discriminating Against Odd-Number Houses
The South Yorkshire Police was mocked on social media in September when it tweeted, “In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing.”
South Yorkshire had the highest rise in violent crime of any region in the country last year, up by 62 percent.
The national charge rate for violent crimes dropped from 26 percent to 15 percent in the last three years. The charge rate for burglaries dropped from 9 percent to 4 percent.
In 2015, one police force investigated only robberies at even-number houses in a pilot scheme aimed at saving money.
Britain does not have a single specific “hate crime” law, but restrictions are found in various statutes from the past 20 to 30 years.
The interpretation of these laws is evolving.
Last month, a Christian baker in Belfast previously found guilty of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake with the words “Support Gay Marriage” had his conviction overturned by the Supreme Court.