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Lords to debate incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

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The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is now at Committee stage in the House of Lords. The remaining dates when the Bill will be debated are 20th, 26th and 27th February, and 5th March. After these dates the Bill will move to report stage and third reading.

The Bill now contains a clause creating a new offence which will prohibit any threatening words or behaviour which are intended to incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. We believe the creation of this offence is unnecessary, as the criminal law already protects all people adequately, irrespective of any particular characteristics.

Having said that we can thank God that the offence has been worded in the same way as the religious hatred offence, which means that the law will only cover words or behaviour which is threatening, and there must also be an intent to incite hatred. This means that quite a high threshold must be met before somebody can be found guilty of the offence.

However, there is one factor which remains of concern to us. During the passage of the religious hatred law in 2006 we were able to secure the inclusion of a ‘free speech clause’ in the offence. This clause read:

“Section 29J - Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.”

The inclusion of this free speech clause was very important as it made it clear to everyone that the religious hatred law could not be used to stifle freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Unfortunately the Government have decided not to include a similar clause in the Criminal Justice Bill. The LCF have written to all members of the House of Lords urging them to support an amendment to the Bill which would remedy this omission. Our briefing can be read at:

Please consider writing a short letter to one or more members of the House of Lords, informing them of the situation and asking them to protect freedom of expression and freedom of religion by supporting an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. An amendment to clause 126 has already been tabled by Lord Waddington, Lord Clarke of Hampstead and the Lord Bishop of Winchester, which reads:

s.29JA ‘Protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation)’ “Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion of, criticism of or expressions of antipathy towards, conduct relating to a particular sexual orientation, or urging persons of a particular sexual orientation to refrain from or modify conduct related to that orientation.”

Ask peers to support this clause during the debate and to vote for it. Point out in your letter that freedom of speech was protected during the passing of the religious hatred offence, and that it is just as important to protect it in the creation of this new offence. Remember to be courteous and polite in all correspondence.

How to write to a Peer in the House Of Lords