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Religious Hatred

Volume 457: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what legal safeguards are in place to prevent (a) the preaching of hatred and (b) incitement to commit criminal acts in religious communities. (119986)

[holding answer 8 February 2007]: Under part III of the Public Order Act 1986 it is a criminal offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent or likelihood to stir up racial hatred. This offence covers inflammatory comments made in public or in the media as well as the distribution of printed material.

Parliament has also passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, though it is not yet in force. This legislation was intended to close the loophole whereby racial groups (which the courts have deemed to include Jews and Sikhs) are afforded protection against incited hatred while religious groups (Christians and Muslims for example) are not. The Act contains specific protection for freedom of speech. The Government are working towards identifying a date for implementation of the Act in the next few months.

Nine racially-aggravated offences were introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which include assaults, criminal damage and harassment, which make available to the courts higher maximum penalties where there is evidence of racist motivation or racial hostility in connection with offence. The Government extended these offences in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 by creating new religiously-aggravated offences.

For other offences, there is a requirement for courts to take account of racial or religious motivation in sentencing (Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000).

Incitement is an anticipatory common law offence so that incitement to commit violent or other criminal offences is itself an offence in religious or any other communities.