Misogyny to be a Hate Crime? More Attacks on Free Speech?

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Hate Speech Bill

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has promised new legislation on “hate speech“ very shortly which is set to replace the 1989 Act  which  was almost never used.

It is commonplace today to be pulled up especially when on social media for language   which is declared to be “hate speech”.

There was a broad hint from McEntee that misogyny will be an offence in the new bill.

A letter (Nov 13 2020) from the National Women’s Council to Minister McEntee sought that gender be a protected category in any new hate crime legislation. The letter cited attacks on women in public life and highlighted the need for Hate Crime Legislation that included misogyny.

The letter goes on to say This gender-based targeting of women and girls is recognised in the Istanbul Convention and cited Article 40 which requires such conduct be subject to criminal or other legal sanction.

While we deplore attacks on women or any person in or seeking public office, we believe that extending the set of protected categories in this way is alarming and will have further stifling impact on free speech. One problem is that hate speech is impossible to define and to distinguish from speech which offends someone. No government has succeeded nor has the European Court of Human Rights. Indeed Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically “allows for the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb”.

Of course misandry is never mentioned as a possible candidate for inclusion by those seeking to make misogyny a hate crime. It is quite acceptable to insult and traduce men with impunity and the phrase “toxic masculinity” is commonly used.

Article 10 of the ECHR specifically “allows for the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb”

Another problem often cited by defenders of free speech is who will define “hate speech”. Here we quote Andrew Doyle the well-known creator of the hilarious Titania McGrath persona: When it comes to calls for censorship, we must always return to the same question: Who are to be the censors, and how might they be expected to reach objective decisions on the basis of fundamentally subjective standards?

Incidentally Doyle has just written a book Free Speech and Why it Matters.

NCHIs an issue in England

In Feb. 2020 the High Court in London made an important judgment the consequences of which are still being played out. At issue was the case of former police officer Harry Miller, who was visited at his home in January 2019 by police and warned that tweets he had posted, while not against the law, were being recorded as “hate incidents“, and told: “We need to check your thinking.”

Miller had dared to challenge the contemporary orthodoxy that people should be allowed to “self-identify” as any gender, and have it immediately accepted under law, no questions asked. Anyone who continues to insist that biology matters more than personal opinion is then deemed to be guilty of “misgendering“.

“I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish,” Miller responded sarcastically on Twitter. “Don’t mis-species me.”

Miller took an action against the police on grounds of interference with his right to free speech. The High Court agreed and ruled that the police actions represented “a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect”. The judge went further and compared the police actions to those of the Stasi.

“I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.”

The recording by the police of so called Non-Crime Hate Incidents or NCHIs is a particularly controversial practice in England and Wales. Over the past five years, the police have investigated a staggering 120,000 NCHIs. The Telegraph has revealed that more 2000 non-crime hate incidents have been recorded against children under the age of 17 since 2014.

Further this practice was decided not in legislation but by the College of Policing. Miller has now instituted proceedings to try to get this practice made illegal.

Court Cases, the Free Speech Union

In March, Miller was in the Court of Appeal in London challenging the High Court’s decision not to declare the recording of NCHIs unlawful in a case he brought against Humberside Police and the College of Policing last year. Miller’s lawyers argued that this practice “violates the right to freedom of expression” and affords a “heckler’s veto” to anyone wanting to silence an opposing view.

The Scottish Parliament passed a Hate Crime bill on March 11.  In England an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill went through which, when the Bill is passed, will require police to record crimes that are motivated by hatred of the victim’s sex or gender. This is widely considered to be the first step towards making misogyny a hate crime.

A number of teachers have been sacked in the UK including Will Knowland sacked from Eton College last year over a video lecture on masculinity. He is taking his case to the Teaching Regulation Authority though one legal expert doesn’t hold out much hope.

Miller and Knowland as well as many others are being supported by the Free Speech Union which has mounted a very vigorous defence of free speech.

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