A victory for free speech. But clear legal safeguards are still needed.

Feb 15, 2020 by

by Harry Phibbs, Conservative Home:

Thank goodness for Mr Justice Julian Knowles. A judgement he delivered yesterday was a powerful defence of freedom of expression, which is expected to have significant implications.

Harry Miller, a 53-year-old man from Lincoln, had challenged the Hate Crime Operational Guidance of the College of Policing – the professional body which delivers training for all officers in England and Wales. Miller, himself a former police officer, had tweeted:

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

A complaint was made of “transphobia” which resulted in a visit from Humberside Police. Though no crime was committed, a “hate incident” was recorded.

Knowles said:

“There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

[…]  But can we rely on the judges either? Knowles is clearly a passionate believer in free speech. What if the matter had been left to another judge with a different view?  Knowles declared that the police response in this case was unlawful. He did not say its guidance itself is unlawful. That guidance defines a hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”. Until the law is changed, that “chilling effect” on free speech will continue. Anyone can report anything as a “hate incident” – just notifying the police of their “perception”. Then if the police decide to record it as such – and a judge upholds them as doing so – this would seem to be a matter of discretion. Free speech should surely have a more secure basis than that. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, is to be commended for seeking to protect open discussion in our colleges – but the threat goes much wider than academia.

Read here

Read also:  Mother-of-two who called a transgender woman a ‘pig in a wig’ is convicted of sending offensive tweets as free speech campaigners protest outside court by Jack Wright, Mailonline


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