Will hate speech laws be repealed?

28 January 2021

A source at the Home Office has revealed to The Express that Home Secretary Priti Patel is looking at how to reform hate speech laws to protect free speech.

The Express writes that “officials have spoken to MPs about changes with may Tory backbenchers pushing for a complete repeal of the laws.”

The campaign to change hate speech and hate crime laws is being spearheaded by Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, but the move reportedly also has the backing of the Common Sense group of Conservative MPs, which has previously pushed for universities to do more to protect free speech.

Writing for The Sunday Express, Mr Bridgen recalled a quote from former US President Ronald Reagan: “If fascism ever comes to America, it will come in the name of liberalism.” Mr Bridgen wrote that,

“Considering the current battles going on in the Western world over free speech, hate legislation and the rise of cancel culture, these words now look strangely prophetic.

“This is because we find ourselves in a situation where a combination of poorly thought-out hate speech legislation together with the rapid expansion of big tech has outstripped the ability of the world’s legislators to regulate it, and we have sleep walked into the creation of the kind of big tech power which would be beyond the dreams of many communist dictators.

“It’s clear that big tech and the Police are overreaching themselves and the UK and other Countries need to redefine the guidance and regulations given big tech and the Police.”

MP for Ipswich, Tom Hunt, is also helping to lead efforts within the Common Sense group, and told The Express that “these laws are being used to attack free speech.”

Expansion of hate crime laws in Britain?

This welcome news comes as the Law Commission recently consulted on simplifying and expanding the law on hate crime in England and Wales. If the proposals became law, it would have a significant impact on free speech and freedom of religion.

Similarly, the Scottish Government has also been planning to extend hate speech laws, which would hugely overregulate free speech.

Current laws open to interpretation

Mr Bridgen noted that the current laws are too wide open to interpretation, with hate crime ironically be defined as either a ‘non crime incident’ or a criminal offence that is “perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.”

This point has been raised previously in the case of former policeman Harry Miller, who was told by police that they needed to ‘check his thinking’. He later won his case against Humberside Police, however his case continues to raise issues about how the law is put into practice.

Mr Bridgen stated:

“Like many hastily rushed through covid regulations, it is a law that can be interpreted in whatever way you like and it is easy to see how the Police and Big Tech can become over zealous in its application.”

Providing the backdrop for cancel culture

In recent weeks, concerns about free speech and censorship on social media have reached the national headlines. Mr Bridgen noted how hate speech laws provide the backdrop for companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to ban people like President Donald Trump and companies like Talk Radio (now reinstated).

In fact, even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has noted how banning the former US President sets a dangerous precedent for Big Tech companies to overregulate free speech.

Time for change

The European Union, through its Digital Services Act, is reportedly looking to require big tech companies to do more to crack down on hate speech whilst at the same time reinforcing freedom of speech. However, Mr Bridgen notes that this is likely to take years to negotiate, and the true effects of these proposals are as yet, unknown, particularly now that the UK has left the EU.

Instead, he said, Britain needs to lead the way, reforming the legislation that already exists:

“This Conservative Government should be seeking to better define hate crime in a way that restrains the power of big tech and avoids the Police wasting precious time on frivolous and trivial matters.

“To protect free speech and democracy, this legislation must be repealed.”

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