The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has proposed that persons who promote online “hostility” toward a religion or so-called transgenders could face sentences of as many as six years in jail, especially if they have a large online audience. The Sentencing Council is drafting changes to public order offenses committed by anyone who is believed to be targeting “protected characteristics” such as “race; sex; disability; age; sexual orientation; religion or belief; pregnancy and maternity; and gender reassignment.”
In 2017, British police affirmed that even “unfriendliness” and “dislike” may constitute a hate crime.
The suggested changes came after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) promised in 2017 to examine so-called hate crimes online as seriously as those that are face-to-face. “Hate crime” guidelines released by the CPS last year noted that no evidence is needed to report a “hate crime”, which only needs to be “perceived” by the alleged victim or someone else. In the U.S., public universities have instituted “Bias Response Teams” to root out perceived bias and hurt feelings among students, imposing re-education about “unconscious bias” and even expulsion.
The council would impose the severest punishments on those “in a position of trust, authority or influence and abuses their position to stir up hatred,” such as politicians, whose offenses are “persistent.” Also, if an “offender was a member of, or was associated with, a group promoting hostility based on race or religion,” the sentence would also be harsher.
Despite a relatively low number of prosecutions, the council asserts that the use of social media, YouTube and other “websites” to incite hatred is a growing problem. “Volumes of these offences are extremely low and there have been no offenders sentenced for some offences,” the Sentencing Council declared. “However, given the recent social climate and an enhanced focus on this type of offending, the council considers it would be useful for sentencers to be equipped with guidance on sentencing these offences,” the statement continues.
“Among the cases analysed there were a number of ‘hate speech’ type offences, where inflammatory speeches were given by influential figures with the intention of stirring up racial hatred,” declared the Sentencing Council. It stated, “Other cases involved publication on YouTube of content inciting serious violence towards particular racial or religious groups, websites being published including abusive and insulting content, with some activity continuing over a long period of time and intended to reach global audiences.”
Many police forces in the UK have been unable to give a definition of “hostility.”