Hate crime?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A famous saying about freedom of speech is often (rightly or wrongly) attributed to the eighteenth century French philosopher, Voltaire (François-Marie Aroue):

‘I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Voltaire’s remark is, however, not without its problems. Freedom of speech is a contested concept. There’s no such thing as the right (in law) to say anything you like. The European Convention on Human Rights does, of course, recognise the right to freedom of expression in terms of Article 10, but European countries that are signatories to the Convention can restrict this right – quite legitimately.

Recently, in 2019, the European Court of Human Rights made it very clear that Holocaust denial is not a legitimate expression of free speech (see Pastörs v Germany ECHR 331 (2019)).

That said, the ability by signatory countries to restrict Article 10 rights are subject to very rigorous safeguards:

  • it must be prescribed by or in accordance with the law;
  • it must be necessary in a democratic society;
  • it is in pursuit of one or more legitimate aims specified in the relevant Article [of the Convention];
  • it must be proportionate.

Even in the United States of America, where lots of unpalatable things are tolerated under the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution, there are limits (see the Miller Test formulated by the US Supreme Court in Miller v California 413 US 15 (1973)).

Our very own Miller case

In the various legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, there is also such a thing as hate speech (a criminal offence). No one is pretending that freedom of speech is an area of the law which is clear cut and unambiguous. It can be minefield and deciding what is legitimate (but perhaps disagreeable or offensive) expressions of free speech from hate speech can be extremely problematic.

We have just been reminded of this fact by a case which has just been decided by the English High Court.

Harry Miller, who is a former Police officer himself, was subject to Police scrutiny because he had posted a number of Tweets about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Let us just say that Mr Miller is clearly not in favour of changes to the legislation which would liberalise this area of the law e.g. by permitting individuals to decide their chosen gender by way of self-identification.

Someone complained about Mr Miller’s Tweets and the Police visited him at his work-place to discuss the matter. He was issued with a warning that his remarks could constitute a hate speech incident, but significantly the officers stated that no crime had been committed. This warning was issued to Miller in terms of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance 2014 (HCOG) issued by the College of Policing.

Mr Miller was not prepared to let this matter rest as he was strongly of the opinion that his right to freedom of expression had been violated by the actions of the Police.

He appealed to Humberside Police’s Appeals Body, but the appeal was rejected in June 2019. Mr Miller then commenced an action for judicial review of the actions of the Police.

Mr Justice Knowles sitting in the English High Court agreed with Mr Miller (see Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin)). It is perhaps highly significant that Knowles J prefaced his ruling with a reference to the unpublished introduction to George Orwell’s celebrated novel, Animal Farm:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

His Honour went on to highlight the remarks of Lord Justice Sedley in Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) 7 BHRC 375:

Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having …

It was also noted that Lord Bingham in R v Shayler [2003] 1 AC 247 had stated:

The reasons why the right to free expression is regarded as fundamental are familiar, but merit brief restatement in the present context. Modern democratic government means government of the people by the people for the people. But there can be no government by the people if they are ignorant of the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and the facts underlying those arguments. The business of government is not an activity about which only those professionally engaged are entitled to receive information and express opinions. It is, or should be, a participatory process. But there can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated …”.

A subtle judgement?

It is important to understand that the judgement issued by Knowles J is one of considerable subtlety and it is not giving the green light to people to say what they want – even if this would cause offence.

There are still limits to freedom of speech and expression. Critically, Knowles J rejected Mr Miller’s very broad challenge that his human rights in terms of Article 10 of the European Convention had been violated merely because the Police had recorded and classified the matter as a non hate crime incident.

Such measures are necessary in a democratic society (and supported by a wealth of evidence) because, amongst other things, they can:

  • provide evidence of a person’s motivation for subsequent hate crimes;
  • provide context to what divides the cohesion of communities when hate incidents take place and how the Police can deal with these matters more effectively; and
  • prevent escalation of crime particularly with school children who might be aware of the seriousness and consequences of committing hate incidents, recording of such behaviour can be a very effective educational tool.

Knowles J found in favour of Mr Miller on the basis of his narrower challenge to the Police actions. This part of Miller’s legal action could be summed up in the following terms:

He [Miller] contends that the combination of the recording of his tweets as a non-crime hate incident under HCOG; PC Gul going to his workplace to speak to him about them; their subsequent conversation in which, at a minimum, PC Gul warned him of the risk of a criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet; and the Claimant’s subsequent dealings with the police in which he was again warned about criminal prosecution, interfered with his rights under Article 10(1) in a manner which was unlawful.

In upholding part of Miller’s challenge on the narrower grounds, Knowles J explained his reasoning:

There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.

His Honour concluded by stating that:

“… the police’s treatment of the Claimant thereafter disproportionately interfered with his right of freedom of expression, which is an essential component of democracy for all of the reasons I explained at the beginning of this judgment.”

A link to the judgement in Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin) can be found below:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/miller-v-college-of-police-judgment.pdf

A link to an article in The Guardian can be found below:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/14/transgender-tweet-police-acted-unlawfully

Conclusion

Proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004 are, undoubtedly, causing heated debate and much controversy across the United Kingdom. There are strong opinions on both sides of this debate and Knowles J acknowledged as much in the Miller case:

The Claimant’s Tweets were, for the most part, either opaque, profane, or unsophisticated. That does not rob them of the protection of Article 10(1). I am quite clear that they were expressions of opinion on a topic of current controversy, namely gender recognition. Unsubtle though they were, the Claimant expressed views which are congruent with the views of a number of respected academics who hold gender-critical views and do so for profound socio-philosophical reasons. This conclusion is reinforced by Ms Ginsberg’s evidence [CEO of Index on Censorship] which shows that many other people hold concerns similar to those held by the Claimant.”

This case is, however, not a green light for people to say what they like – no matter how offensive their remarks may be. Freedom of speech and expression carry responsibilities and people should be mindful of this. That said, cases which have at their centre arguments over freedom of expression will turn on their facts. It is useful to realise that legitimate expressions of free speech will be protected and upheld. It’s a question of balance, but this is easier said than done – much more difficult to achieve in practice.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/21/say-what-you-want/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/08/holocaust-denial/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/09/26/im-not-your-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/17/whos-the-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/25/gender-neutral/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 16 February 2020

Rehab (or I can change)

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Unlike the fantastic Amy Winehouse track, in the case that I’ll discuss shortly, it was the prisoner who wanted to go to rehab. His perception that the Prison Service had said “no” was the basis of a petition for judicial review.

Yes, we’re barely into 2020 and the human rights’ bandwagon for prisoners rolls on yet again.

Last month, I wrote two Blogs about petitions for judicial review submitted by prisoners to the Court of Session in respect of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (i.e. the right to family and private life). Both applications were unsuccessful (see William Frederick Ian Beggs v The Scottish Ministers [2019] CSOH 95; and Petition of David Gilday for Judicial Review of the actions of the Scottish Ministers [2019] CSOH 103).

The Scottish Government (or Ministers) are legally obligated in terms of both the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that public bodies and agencies comply with the State’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Regular readers of this Blog site will be very familiar with this state of affairs.

In a recent case before the Lord Ericht in the Court of Session, a third inmate of one of Her Majesty’s penal institutions fared no better than his fellow hoodlums when he raised a claim for damages of £10,000.

In the Petition: Michael Glancy for Judicial Review of the actions of Scottish Ministers [2020], Michael Glancy [the prisoner] claimed that the alleged failure by the Scottish Prison Service to provide him with proper rehabilitation opportunities represented a breach of his right to liberty in terms of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In essence, Glancy was arguing that the lack of such opportunities was in effect turning his imprisonment into an ongoing period of arbitrary detention with very little prospect of him meeting Parole Board criteria for his release on licence.

The background to the prisoner’s circumstances were as follows:

In June 2015, at the High Court in Edinburgh, the petitioner was sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 4 years with an extension period of 2 years. He had been convicted of assault to injury, two charges of assault, a contravention of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, section 52 (vandalism), two charges of assault (domestic) and assault to injury, permanent disfigurement and danger of life. The petitioner had had previous convictions …

At a Parole Board Hearing in 2016, it was noted that:


In light of the current circumstances, behaviour and attitude of Mr Glancy it is not possible to positively recommend his release on licence. It would appear that he is so engaged in extreme, violent and anti-authority type behaviour there is no possibility of his risk being managed in the community subject to licence conditions.
There are significant concerns as to how Mr Glancy will be managed in the community, not least where he will live.

Glancy’s main bone of contention seems to have centred around his belief that he was denied the opportunity to participate in the Self-Change Programme (“SCP”).

As Lord Ericht noted:

This [SCP] is a high intensity cognitive-behaviour programme that aims to reduce violence in high risk adult male offenders. It is for prisoners with a persistent and persuasive pattern of violence. It is for violent offenders who present the highest risk and is used for the top 2% to 5% of offenders in terms of risk.

While serving his sentence, Glancy had refused certain opportunities to address his criminal offending and, furthermore, he had been the subject of 13 misconduct reports (overwhelmingly connected with fighting and assault). As Lord Ericht observed [at paragraph 50] it was the repeated failures of Glancy to engage with meaningful offers of rehabilitation during his periods of incarceration that led to his exclusion from SCP.

In dismissing Glancy’s Petition, Lord Ericht made the following observations:

Moreover I find that the respondents have not failed to provide information about when rehabilitative work might be offered in terms of article 5, or acted irrationally in failing to provide him with this. The minutes of the various case management meetings show that there was extensive discussion with the petitioner throughout the period of his incarceration about the courses available to him. In response to his complaint, the prisoner was informed that the SCP course for non-protection prisoners was not running at that time but he would be notified of the date of the course applicable for his category of prisoner. No date for such a course has since been fixed.

A link to Lord Ericht’s Opinion in respect of Glancy’s Petition can be found below:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2020csoh001.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/04/red-letter-day/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/23/serious-drugs/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 24 January 2020

For your eyes only?

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

Two days running and we seem to be on a bit of a theme in this Blog about a person’s right to privacy and the limits of such a right.

If you picked up on yesterday’s Blog article (The limits of privacy), you’ll be aware that generally speaking the common law of Scotland (and indeed that of England) does recognise a person’s right to a private life. This right is also protected in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (as implemented by the Scotland and Human Rights Acts 1998).

That said, privacy is not an absolute right and there may be all sorts of situations where the State (or your employer for that matter) might legitimately take in interest in your activities (whether these happen on the job or are of an extra-curricular nature).

If you’re William Beggs today, you might be feeling rather upset about this. William Beggs, for those of you who don’t know, is currently serving a life sentence for murder in a Scottish Prison. He earned the rather grim moniker, ‘The Limbs in the Loch’ killer because of he dismembered his victim (Barry Wallace).

Well, Mr Beggs – somewhat ironically many would no doubt be quick to pass comment – wished to pursue a legal action in which he alleged that his human rights had been breached by the prison authorities. Specifically, Beggs objected to the practice of the authorities in opening and reading his private correspondence from his doctors and lawyers. In his opinion, the authorities (the Scottish Prison Service and the were in breach of his right to privacy as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There were three incidents between October and November 2018 where Beggs objected to the Scottish Prison Service monitoring his correspondence: two letters with the details of hospital appointments and one letter from his lawyer had been opened. The prison official who opened the letter from Beggs’ lawyer had done so mistakenly and the authorities apologised fully for this action.

Beggs submitted a petition for judicial review of the actions of the Scottish Prison Service (and also that of the Scottish Government as the supervising state authority) to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Beggs also brought a claim for damages of £5,000 that he was a victim in terms of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Section 100(3) of the Scotland Act 1998.

The outcome of Beggs’ petition

Unfortunately, for Beggs the Court of Session (where his application for judicial review was being heard) did not agree.

Yes, there is a general duty in terms of Article 8 for public authorities (the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government to which it is answerable) to guarantee the right to privacy for serving prisoners, but it is not an absolute right.

As Article 8 makes abundantly clear:

There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Lord Armstrong (in the Outer House of the Court of Session) was very clear, when arriving at his decision to reject Beggs’ petition, that the Scottish Prison Service had very good reasons for monitoring his confidential correspondence. According to rules 55 and 56 of the Prison and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, such actions could be justified in situations where there was:

“reasonable cause to believe that the contents of the correspondence might endanger the security of the prison, endanger the safety of any person, or relate to criminal activity”.

Although the Prison authorities had erred when they opened Beggs’ legal correspondence, they had recognised this situation and promptly apologised to him.

Consequently, Beggs’ claim for damages was also rejected.

A link to Lord Armstrong’s Opinion can be found below:

William Frederick Ian Beggs v The Scottish Ministers [2019] CSOH 95

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019csoh95.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 December 2019

To prorogue or not to prorogue? (That indeed is the question)

Photo by Hugo Sousa on Unsplash

It was all meant to be so different from Theresa May’s chaotic time in Downing Street, but the last few weeks have not been kind to current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

He has been attacked for seeking the prorogation (suspension) of Parliament for 5 weeks; he has lost several (critical) parliamentary votes; he also lost his majority in the Commons; and he has been denied the General Election (which many of his critics believe that he secretly craves – despite official statements to the contrary). This last problem having arisen as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 – passed ironically with the votes of Conservative MPs in the more peaceful days of the UK Coalition Government (2010-15). The law of unintended consequences many of the Prime Minister’s supporters will no doubt lament.

The Prime Minister might have felt some relief last week when both the Queen’s Bench Division of the English High Court and the Outer House of the Court of Session ruled in two separate, but connected, cases that his decision to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament (by using the Royal Prerogative) was not unlawful (see Gina Miller v the Prime Minister & Others; and Joanna Cherry MP and Others, Petition for Judicial Review both 2019).

That was until 11 September 2019), when the Inner House of the Court of Session (Scotland’s Supreme Civil Court) landed nothing less than a bombshell on the UK Government. Lords Carloway, Brodie and Drummond Young issued an opinion that the circumstances which surrounded the proroguing of Parliament was unlawful:

All three First Division judges have decided that the PM’s advice to the HM the Queen is justiciable, that it was motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament and that it, and what has followed from it, is unlawful. …

The Court will accordingly make an Order declaring that the Prime Minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect.

This decision clearly reverses Lord Doherty’s Opinion in the Outer House of the Court of Session which was issued on 4 September 2019.

Professor Stephen Tierney of Edinburgh University’s Law School referred to the judgement as “remarkable”.

In essence, the prorogation of Parliament was a tactical (underhand?) manoeuvre by the UK Government to make it more difficult for the UK Parliament to scrutinise and block it’s attempt to pursue a no deal Brexit by 31 October 2019. For now, the objective of the Government in this regard have been stopped in tracks.

The UK Government has been given leave to appeal against the decision of the Inner House and the matter will be now be determined by the UK Supreme Court at Guildhall, London.

A link to the full Opinion of the Inner House can be found below:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019csih49.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 11 & 13 September 2019