England: Law Commission proposes hate crime reforms with free speech safeguards

England: Law Commission proposes hate crime reforms with free speech safeguards

The Law Commission of England and Wales has announced recommendations to reform hate crime legislation to ensure that disabled and LGBT+ victims receive the same protections as victims with other protected characteristics.

The commission is also making a number of recommendations to protect women and girls. This includes extending the offence of stirring up hatred – behaviour that incites others to hate entire groups – to cover sex or gender and has recommended that the government consider the need for a new offence to tackle public sexual harassment.

Whilst enhancing protection for victims of targeted abuse, the commission has also made a number of recommendations to safeguard freedom of expression and ensure the criminal law is focused on the most egregious hate speech.

In relation to the stirring up hatred offences, the commission has recommended:

  • Replacing the dwelling exemption with protection for private conversations to ensure they are exempted regardless of where they take place
  • Explicit protection for “gender critical” views, criticism of foreign governments, and discussion of cultural practices, and immigration, asylum and citizenship policy
  • A new protection for “neutral reporting” of inflammatory hate speech by third parties

Professor Penney Lewis, criminal law commissioner, said: “Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent.

“Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.”

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