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Guidelines ask police to prioritise freedom of speech in non-crime hate

The Home Secretary has issued draft guidelines to go before Parliament today.

Draft guidelines would see police prioritise freedom of speech over taking offence in non-crime hate incidents.

The Home Secretary has said that such guidelines would prevent the police “wrongly getting involved in lawful debate”.

The guidance, which will go before Parliament today, would instruct police to only record non-crime hate incidents when it is “absolutely necessary and proportionate” and not simply “because someone is offended”.

Personal data will only be recorded for incidents “motivated by intentional hostility” and where there is a “real risk of significant harm”.

Officers ought to have freedom of expression “at the forefront of their minds”, Suella Braverman has said.

She continued: “I have been deeply concerned about reports of the police wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country.

“We have been clear that, in recording so called non-crime hate incidents, officers must always have freedom of expression at the forefront of their minds.

“The new code will ensure the police are prioritising their efforts where it’s really needed and focusing on tackling serious crimes such as burglary, violent offences, rape and other sexual offences.”

It comes following some confusion last year over Hate Crime guidance issued by the College of Policing.

Guidance advised officers not to get involved in social media rows unless they are motivated by hate, in a move intended to reduce unnecessary recording of “non-crime hate”. 

The guidance set out: 

The College nonetheless emphasised officers cannot discount low-level offences due to their potential to escalate. 

In today's draft guidelines, under a section of the draft entitled “necessary considerations – proportionality, common-sense approach, and least intrusive method”, the guidelines reference the case of ex-police officer Harry Miller.

Mr Miller was visited at work by an officer from Humberside Police in January 2019 after a member of the public complained about his allegedly “transphobic” tweets.

The force recorded the complaint as a “non-crime hate incident”, defined by the College's guidance as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”.

Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, challenged both  Humberside Police’s actions and the College's guidance at the High Court and, following a lengthy legal battle, the Court of Appeal ultimately found that the guidance breached his freedom of expression rights.

The guidelines say the court concluded that additional safeguards were needed to protect freedom of expression.

Labour shadow policing minister Sarah Jones said that the Home Secretary is “trying to pick fights” instead of “providing serious solutions”.

She said: “We will wait to see the details of these guidelines, but it seems yet again the Home Secretary is trying to pick fights instead of providing serious solutions to the pressures on policing.

“The irony of the Government choosing this moment to emphasise freedom of expression will not be lost on anyone.”

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