Toby Young

Will making jokes about vegans soon be a hate crime?

Will making jokes about vegans soon be a hate crime?
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Well done to Sara Thornton, a senior police officer who has warned against extending the definition of a ‘hate crime’ to include misogyny, misandry and ageism. Yesterday, she told a conference of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners that they should be allowed to focus on ‘core’ crimes like burglary, rather than being forced to increase the already ridiculous amount of time they spend investigating hate crimes. In 2016, British police detained and questioned 3,300 people for making ‘offensive’ comments on social media – roughly nine arrests per day. Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest force in England, is failing to investigate 56 per cent of cases – and these aren’t minor crimes, but include things like theft, assault and burglary.

A ‘hate crime’ is any crime motivated by prejudice towards someone based on certain ‘protected’ characteristics. At present, those characteristics are race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity, but the Law Commission is currently reviewing whether to add to them. Diane Abbott told police leaders this morning that she’s in favour of making misogyny a hate crime, although it won’t surprise anyone to learn that Labour’s shadow home secretary has misunderstood what a hate crime is. Merely harbouring hostility towards someone in one of the protected categories is not, by itself, a ‘hate crime’, so adding ‘gender’ to that list won’t make ‘misogyny’ a hate crime. In addition, the accused would have to commit an actual crime, such as sending an unsolicited, malicious email. In the words of the criminal justice system, a hate crime is an ‘aggravated offence’ it is not an offence in its own right. Then again, Abbott may actually want to bring forward a bill proposing that merely having a thought that she disapproves of should be classed as a ‘hate crime’.

In an odd sort of way, that would be welcome since at least Parliament would then have an opportunity to debate the issue. The concept of a ‘hate crime’, i.e. an existing crime being exacerbated by being motivated by prejudice, etc., was first introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act in 1998, but it was a very different beast then. It was only after it had passed into law that it was then ‘defined’ – in fact, massively extended – by a group of unelected officials meeting behind closed doors. In 2007, representatives of the Police Service, the Prison Service and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as other agencies, defined it as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’ and it then listed the characteristics. In the 1998 Act, those were limited to religiously and racially aggravated offences, but these bureaucrats added three more of their own volition – and we’re now faced with the prospect of the Law Commission adding yet another three.

What’s so insidious about the definition is the element of subjectivity. The ‘perceived by the victim’ clause is bad enough since it means any victim can claim that the crime in question was motivated by prejudice towards them and the police and courts have to take that into account, even if no reasonable person would reach the same conclusion. But the panel of Grand Inquisitors then added ‘or any other person’ for good measure, so even if the victim doesn’t think the perpetrator was motivated by prejudice and no reasonable person would, provided one other person does, that’s enough. They have effectively empowered the most unreasonable, chippy, easily offended person who has some connection to the crime, however tenuous, to be the ultimate arbiter of what motivated the accused. Talk about a witch hunt. “It’s my opinion, Deputy Governor Danforth, that John Proctor is motivated by prejudice towards good Christian folk.” On to the bonfire with him.

Ordinary coppers don’t want to be spending their days chasing down people accused by some over-sensitive loon, or a neighbour with an axe to grind, of being motivated by hate. Earlier this year, the new head of the Police Federation complained that his 120,000 members were being forced to follow up hate crime reports when they would much rather be investigating burglaries, two-thirds of which were largely ignored by the police last year. It’s their managers who are at fault, such as the bright spark at South Yorkshire Police who encouraged people on Twitter to report ‘non crime hate incidents’ – episodes so trivial they don’t even meet the absurdly capacious definition of a hate crime. I have instructed my 10-year-old son to stop calling his teenage sister ‘spotty’ in case he receives a visit from Inspector Knacker.

I suspect the British public don’t have much tolerance for this scandalous waste of the police’s time – another reason a Parliamentary debate would be welcome. A recent poll by CapX found that 66 per cent of people think political correctness has either gone ‘much too far’ or a ‘little too far’. Only nine per cent think it has ‘not gone far enough’, with 17 per cent thinking it’s ‘about right’. These findings echoed that of YouGov, who found that 67 per cent of the British public think ‘Too many people are easily offended these days by the language others use’.

If the current Government had any balls it would instruct the Law Commission to reduce the number of protected characteristics to the original two – race and religion – and introduce a ‘reasonable person’ standard into the definition of a hate crime. Not only would that free up the police to investigate real crimes, it would be hugely popular with the public. But it won’t, of course. On the contrary, judging from the furore provoked by William Sitwell’s comments, I daresay it will instruct the Law Commission to add ‘vegan’ to the list of protected characteristics.

Written byToby Young

Toby Young is the co-author of What Every Parent Needs to Know and the co-founder of several free schools. In addition to being an associate editor of The Spectator, he is an associate editor of Quillette. Follow him on Twitter @toadmeister

Topics in this articleSocietyhate crime