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Hate crime approach has been ‘corrosive’ – leading to policy ‘shooting in the dark’, says think-tank report

A new report from Civitas offers a critical appraisal of the ideas behind what we call ‘hate crime’ as well as the evidence for it. All too often, politicians, activists, celebrities and senior police officers consider it necessary to highlight apparent surges in hate crimes. But while such crimes are always to be condemned, this report shows how ‘we have ushered in a response to it that is corrosive’.

With people in Britain today increasingly frustrated by the limits and threats to freedom of speech, the government can play its part in responding to this challenge by offering ‘a more honest appraisal’ of the role of hate crime laws, argues Richard Norrie.

There are many threats to freedom of speech in Britain today, such as the proposals from the Scottish government and the Law Commission to further expand the legislation around hate crimes so that they protect more ‘characteristics’.

But as Richard Norrie shows in this report, there are fundamental problems relating to hate crimes – in principle and in practice.

In practice, the recording and discussion of hate crimes are deeply misleading:

‘As noted by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the more reliable data taken from the Crime Survey of England and Wales points to a decline in hate crime overall.’

While always to be condemned, violent and verbal abuse are the experience of a minority of ethnic minority individuals. The report finds:

  • 9 per cent of black Britons report being subject to racial slurs in the past year as do 7 per cent of those of South Asian origin.
  • 7 per cent of black Britons report being subject to racial attacks as do 0.4 per cent of South Asians.
  • In the early 1990s, 14 per cent of black Britons reported racial slurs as did 10 per cent of South Asians.

The report continues:

‘Moreover, while the Government wants a decline in hate crime, the benchmark for measuring this against – the Crime Survey – is deeply flawed, with around half of race hate crimes being deemed to have a racial motive by survey respondents without a compelling reason. In essence, policy is shooting in the dark.’

The problem is made worse by the term itself. On the surface, ‘hate crimes’ can seem to involve malicious perpetrators. But looking at the data, Richard Norrie finds that incidents classified as ‘hate crimes’ reflect people ‘reporting things that are trivial, such as things they have seen or overheard that offend them. Likely, these are not even crimes’.

The report finds examples of things recorded as hate crimes by the police such as:

  • Arguments over restaurant bills;
  • Fallings out between friends;
  • Children being obnoxious;
  • Mentally ill people being abusive.

The author finds:

‘We speak about hate crime as though it is the work of organised racists or bigots. But as one hate crime worker put it to me, the standard incident reported to his organisation was along the lines of a row breaking out over something like a parking space, which escalated into insults.’

The report argues that hate crime has been talked up to present the democratic decision to leave the EU as somehow indecent. It presents new data to show that the spike in racially or religiously aggravated reported offences that occurred after the referendum in 2016, largely consisted of offenses of causing fear, alarm or distress. In other words, things like name calling or shouted abuse. Violent hate crimes were in the minority and scarcely peaked, if at all, during this time.

The channelling of police resources and efforts towards hate crimes has implications for social order:

‘Every action taken by the police is at the expense of another action, since time and money are limited. Police have made all such reports a priority under elite direction that there is no place for hate crime in the United Kingdom.’

Norrie highlights a ‘cottage industry’ of hate crime entrepreneurs who have an interest in inflating the discussion and prevalence of hate crimes in Britain. The author identifies a conflict of interest:

‘If you are advising government on a policy area from which your organisation derives substantial amounts of government funding, you are not independent and have a conflict of interest.’

‘Ultimately, the problem is that hate crime has become a matter of being seen to be virtuous, and so politicians throw money at it. Those who get the money have no incentive to say things are getting better, because that will mean less money.’

Fundamental to this reassessment of hate crime laws in Britain will require, in principle, a return to the liberal tradition of equality before the law. Showing the history and development of hate crimes laws in Britain, Norrie says ‘We have entered a new way of doing law, that sees thought as something to be punished where it leads to crime.’

In effect, hate crimes have ‘introduced inequality before the law’ by legislating ‘against people with some characteristics but not all characteristics.’

The report concludes with several recommendations for policy which the government could introduce tomorrow to resolve, to a huge extent, these problems. These include:

  • ‘Repealing all aspects of legislation that pertain to particular group characteristics’
  • Reaffirming ‘the principle of equality before the law’
  • ‘A clear statement of principle that the police are to prioritise body, then property, then feelings, and not the motivations behind a crime’
  • And to fundamentally reassess the role taxpayer’s money has in funding the ‘cottage industry’ of institutions which are only serving to do us down.

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