South Yorkshire Police has been blasted over a statement encouraging people to report “offensive or insulting” remarks.
The police force used twitter to urge citizens to “put a stop” to hate, by reporting what it called “non-crime hate incidents”.
The force acknowledged that “police can only prosecute when the law is broken”, but said non-crime hate incidents like an insulting comment “can feel like a crime to those affected”.
Critics pointed out that recorded crime in the South Yorkshire area has risen 30 per cent, compared with a national rise of 21 per cent and that the force should focus on “real crime”.
Twitter users also said the suggestions impinge on free speech and would usher in an Orwellian society, in which people will be reported for ‘thought crimes’.
One online commenter called it “a bridge toward totalitarianism”, while another added: “You could probably just lock a good 25% of the public away now and call it crime prevention.”
The suggestion was ridiculed further, with one person tweeting: “Just to be clear: you want me to phone the police when there hasn’t been a crime but someone’s feelings have been hurt?”
Journalist Toby Young was also critical of the advice, saying: “If the incident in question isn’t a crime, even under the absurdly capacious legal definition of a ‘hate crime’, then what is South Yorkshire Police proposing to do by way of not tolerating it?
“If a comment is offensive but not a crime, it’s not a police matter.”
The tweet comes soon after Justice Minister Lucy Frazer announced a Law Commission review into hate crimes.
In Scotland a review is already in progress following a report by Lord Bracadale QC, who made his reccomendations to the Scottish Government.
In 2013, the Government agreed to reform the law to give more protection to free speech, following a lengthy campaign spearheaded by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society.
The Reform Section 5 campaign wanted the word ‘insulting’ removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
Celebrities including Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry backed the campaign, and after the Government relented, the change was incorporated in Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
In 2014, the Institute helped lead another free speech campaign – Reform Clause 1. The Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill sought to outlaw “nuisance and annoyance”.
Joe and Helen Roberts
In 2005, elderly couple Joe and Helen Roberts were supported by the Institute after they were accused by the police of being very close to a hate crime and a seven-year prison sentence.
The couple had politely enquired of the council as to whether they could place Christian literature next to gay-rights leaflets, but were reported for what was deemed a “homophobic telephone call”.
In December 2006, both the police and council admitted they were wrong in how they had treated the Roberts, and reached an out-of-court settlement.
This was the first victory for the Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.