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Non-crime Hate Incidents: Personal Data

Volume 729: debated on Monday 13 March 2023

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has today laid before Parliament the statutory Non-crime Hate Incidents Draft Code of Practice on the Recording and Retention of Personal Data, which police officers and staff must have regard to. This code is being laid under the provisions of sections 60 and 61 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The Government are introducing this code to establish a proportionate and common-sense approach to the recording of non-crime hate incidents. This approach should better protect personal data, emphasise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, and reduce the number of unnecessary non-crime hate incidents that are recorded whilst still ensuring that vulnerable individuals, groups and communities continue to be safeguarded by the police.

This Government fully recognise the sensitivities surrounding the recording of non-crime hate incidents by the police, particularly in relation to concerns that this process infringes on the right to freedom of expression. We know there are concerns that individuals who express lawfully held views are at risk of becoming the subject of a non-crime hate incident report if their views are considered to be offensive, and that in turn, this may result in their personal data being stored on a policing record. This Government are clear that this should never be the case. The code makes it clear that offending someone is not, in and of itself, a criminal offence, nor does it warrant a non-crime hate incident being recorded. This aligns with this Government’s stance that everyone in this country, no matter who they are or what their views are, should be able to engage in lawful debate without police interference.

The code emphasises the importance of free speech with case studies that are designed to assist the police in considering how the right to freedom of expression should be taken into consideration. The code clarifies that debate, humour, satire and personally held views which are lawfully expressed are not, by themselves, grounds for the recording of a non-crime hate incident. Furthermore, the code sets out that a non-crime hate incident should not be recorded if the report is deemed by the police to be trivial, irrational, malicious, or if there is no basis to conclude that it was motivated by intentional hostility.

The code provides new personal data-related safeguards, setting out that the personal data of some who is the subject of an NCHI report should only be included in a record if the incident poses a real risk (a) of significant harm to individuals or groups with a protected characteristic, or (b) that a future criminal offence may be committed against individuals or groups with a protected characteristic. For the purposes of the code, protected characteristics are considered to be race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. If this new threshold is not met, personal data should not be recorded, and any personal data previously noted by the police in relation to the incident—for instance, personal information recorded by the initial call taker—should be deleted. This code therefore ensures that non-crime hate incidents, and relevant personal data, will only be recorded when absolutely necessary. We believe this will increase transparency and public trust in this process.

The Government fully recognise the importance of ensuring that vulnerable individuals, groups and communities continue to be protected by the police; indeed, this is the purpose of non-crime hate incident recording. We are confident that the code does precisely this. We are grateful for the advice provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing and senior police officers during the process of drafting this code. This has allowed us to publish a code that strikes the right balance between respecting the operational importance of this type of recording for the police, while improving safeguards for free speech. If someone is targeted because of hostility or prejudice towards their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity, and the criteria in the code are met, the incident can and should be recorded as a non-crime hate incident. This approach will enable the police to intervene as appropriate in order to prevent significant harm or future criminal offences from materialising, while ensuring the right to freedom of expression is protected.

A copy of the draft code which has been laid before Parliament will also be published on