Following the recent ‘blasphemy’ episode in a school in Kettlethorpe, where the police initially recorded a ‘non-crime hate incident’ (NCHI) after four boys slightly damaged a copy of the Quran, the Home Office has today published a draft code of practice for the police on NCHIs. The code sets out what should and should not be considered to be an NCHI. It clarifies that criticism of religion per se is never a hate crime, and also that causing offence is no grounds for the recording of a NCHI.
In the wake of the incident in Kettlethorpe, Humanists UK urged the Government to issue police guidance making it absolutely clear that causing offence is neither a crime in Great Britain nor a NCHI. Today it has welcomed the fact that the Government has done precisely that.
Humanists UK has also been pushing for guidance to be issued for schools. On 4 March the Home Secretary announced such guidance, but last week there was confusion after the Department for Education (DfE) said it was producing no such guidance and the Home Office referred the question to the DfE. But since then the Home Office has clarified that it is leading on the production of such guidance, and indeed today’s guidance addresses school incidents specifically.
Today’s Non-Crime Hate Incidents Draft Code of Practice says:
‘Fundamentally, offending someone is not, in and of itself, a criminal offence. To constitute an offence under hate crime legislation, the speech or behaviour in question must be threatening, abusive or insulting and be intended to, or likely to, stir up hatred. Similarly, unless the speech in question meets the Additional Threshold Test set out in this code, offending someone is not, in and of itself, enough to warrant the recording of an NCHI involving personal data’ [para 43].
The code of practice also makes clear that alleged hate crimes and NCHIs will very rarely meet the threshold for recording if they take place at a school:
‘… If a report is made to the police about an incident that occurs in a school and does not amount to a crime, the appropriate police response would be to refer the matter to the school management team, and to offer advice to the complainant about available support. An NCHI record should not be made on policing systems, and the personal data of the subject should not be recorded… For the avoidance of doubt, this may include incidents that occur between school-aged children, or incidents involving an employee of the school. This may include complaints about incidents on school premises (both within and outside the classroom setting) and content or forms of expression that are provided by teaching staff as part of the school curriculum…’ [para 36].
The above stipulation shows that what happened with the boys in the Quran incident, as well as the Batley teacher who used an image of Mohammed in one of his lessons, would not meet the threshold of a NCHI.
The code also makes clear that ‘religious hatred’ includes hate crime against people motivated by their lack of perceived religion.
The code will be presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Monday afternoon.
A Humanists UK spokesperson said:
‘We welcome this draft code of practice. The state has strong interests both in protecting free speech and in preventing harassment, discrimination, and incitement to hatred against people on the basis of their innate characteristics. The code of practice carefully balances these competing needs, considering the motivations behind incidents, their seriousness, and whether debate, humour, or satire are relevant factors.
‘What happened in Kettlethorpe appears to simply have been schoolboy foolishness. As such it never warranted the involvement of the police. We’re pleased that the Government has listened by bringing some much-needed clarity to the table. The police are often put in a difficult position by vocal religious groups in their area demanding action – kowtowing to which only can sometimes only escalate tensions further. We look forward to further action from the Government to make sure that what happened in Kettlethorpe never occurs in a school again.’
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Read Non-Crime Hate Incidents: Draft Code of Practice on the Recording and Retention of Personal Data from the Home Office.
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