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Hate crime guidance overhauled after former officer wins appeal

Hate crime guidance has been clarified following a Court of Appeal case brought by a former officer.

The College of Policing has revised guidance for hate crime investigations after the Court of Appeal ruled a force had acted disproportionately.

Officers now have a new test to apply when investigating potential hate crimes where they must decide if actions are motivated by hostility or free speech.

The update from the College follows a case brought by former officer Harry Miller against Humberside Police.

Mr Miller had been visited at work in January 2019 over claims of “transphobic” comments on social media.

An anonymous member of the public complained about Mr Miller’s tweets, leading Humberside Police to record the complaint as a “hate incident”.

Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, challenged Humberside Police’s actions and the College of Policing’s guidance at the High Court.

He claimed the force’s actions had been disproportionate and violated his freedom of speech.

The new College guidance advises: “For allegations of hate incidents police need to apply ‘common sense’ in establishing whether there is hostility towards a protected characteristic group. If, having applied common sense and taking account of the full context, no hostility is found, the incident should not be recorded.”

The appeal by Mr Miller was lodged on five grounds:

Common law principle of legality – appeal not upheld
Lawfulness of the guidance under common law – appeal not upheld
Interference in freedom of expression – upheld
Prescribed by law – appeal not upheld
Proportionality – upheld

Officers must now

A hate crime is: a criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on the same characteristics.

Complaints linked to trans-gender allegations have increased during the past two years.

In the most high-profile case, Police Scotland is investigating claims by the author J K Rowling that her address had been published on social media by activists - putting her safety at risk as a result.

The Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has said policing needs to look at how it responds. It followed a media article by Surrey PCC Lisa Townsend which led to 40 complaints.

A panel confirmed she was entitled to express her opinion.

The College of Policing told Police Oracle it is studying the Miller judgement carefully.

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Raphael, College of Policing said: “Complaints of hate are often complex and our guidance seeks to help officers understand how best to do a difficult part of their job.

“The balance we have always aimed to strike is between the need to protect vulnerable people and communities from harm with the need to facilitate and protect freedom of speech.”

He explained how the College has responded: “The court has found we need to make safeguards in our guidance more explicit to help police officers proportionately enforce the law.

“The judgement provides clarity that police have the power to record, retain and use a wide variety of data and information to keep people safe. By recording correctly, the police can gain insight into potential tensions in communities and harm caused to individuals.”

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