Turning to hate speech in Britain, Sir Ken pointed out that the new offence of incitement to religious hatred in the Racial and Religious Hatred act 2006 offers Muslims little more protection than they had before the law came into force last year.
This is because a prosecution can be brought only if there is evidence of deliberately threatening behaviour that was deliberately intended to stir up hatred to a high degree. Recklessness and even deliberately stirring up ridicule, hostility and contempt were excluded by Parliament. There are also broad exemptions protecting freedom of speech.
“So you end up with an offence that was presented to particular communities as something to their benefit and which doesn’t actually have much use,” Sir Ken said.
It was important to explain this to those who had expected protection from the new law. “Right from the start, we were very frank in our various engagements with Muslim communities that this law was going to be very challenging to apply and we didn’t expect to see very many prosecutions.”
That was not the message the Government wanted to hear, it was suggested. “It’s what Parliament wanted,” he replied.