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Home secretary says freedom of speech to be prioritised over taking offence under draft guidelines

Braverman ‘deeply concerned about reports of the police wrongly getting involved in lawful debate’

Luke O'Reilly
Monday 13 March 2023 06:42 GMT
Home secretary Suella Braverman said the draft guidelines will prevent police ‘wrongly getting involved in lawful debate’
Home secretary Suella Braverman said the draft guidelines will prevent police ‘wrongly getting involved in lawful debate’ (PA Wire)

Police will prioritise freedom of speech over taking offence in non-crime hate incidents if new draft guidelines issued by the home secretary pass parliament.

Suella Braverman said the draft guidelines, which will go before parliament on Monday, will prevent police “wrongly getting involved in lawful debate”.

Under the guidance, the police will only record so-called non-crime hate incidents when it is “absolutely necessary and proportionate” and not “simply because someone is offended”, the Home Office said in a release.

Personal data will only be recorded for incidents “motivated by intentional hostility” and where there is a “real risk of significant harm”.

Ms Braverman said officers must have freedom of expression “at the forefront of their minds”.

“I have been deeply concerned about reports of the police wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country,” she said.

“We have been clear that, in recording so called non-crime hate incidents, officers must always have freedom of expression at the forefront of their minds.

“The new code will ensure the police are prioritising their efforts where it’s really needed and focusing on tackling serious crimes such as burglary, violent offences, rape and other sexual offences.”

Under a section of the draft entitled “necessary considerations – proportionality, common-sense approach, and least intrusive method”, the guidelines reference the case of ex-police officer Harry Miller.

Mr Miller was visited at work by an officer from Humberside Police in January 2019 after a member of the public complained about his allegedly “transphobic” tweets.

The force recorded the complaint as a “non-crime hate incident”, defined by the College of Policing’s guidance as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”.

Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, challenged both Humberside Police’s actions and the College of Policing’s guidance at the High Court and, following a lengthy legal battle, the Court of Appeal ultimately found that the guidance breached his freedom of expression rights.

The guidelines say the court concluded that additional safeguards were needed to protect freedom of expression.

Crime, policing and fire minister Chris Philp said the guidelines create a “clear threshold” that must be met for hate incidents to be recorded.

“We are committed to supporting the police to fulfil their vital role of keeping the public safe, including tackling the scourge of hate crime,” he said.

“Their focus must remain on catching dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice.

“That’s why we’re taking action to ensure a clear threshold must be met in order for incidents of this type to be recorded.”

Labour shadow policing minister Sarah Jones said that the Home Secretary is “trying to pick fights” instead of “providing serious solutions”.

“We will wait to see the details of these guidelines, but it seems yet again the Home Secretary is trying to pick fights instead of providing serious solutions to the pressures on policing,” she said.

“The irony of the government choosing this moment to emphasise freedom of expression will not be lost on anyone.

“Labour has a plan to increase the number of neighbourhood police and give police the support and specialism they need to deal with the most serious crimes like rape and domestic abuse, as well as taking action to drive up standards across policing to rebuild trust and confidence.”

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