Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 7:30 pm, 3rd March 2008

With respect, it is not for the Government to prosecute because those matters are best left to the DPP. It is not for a Minister to intervene.

I understand the concerns as to whether this proposed change in legislation might have an impact on freedom of expression. This has been thought about very carefully. It was thoroughly debated as the Bill passed through the other place and it was agreed that no additional safeguard was necessary for freedom of expression. The Government are of the view that words or behaviour which are threatening or intended to stir up hatred can never be justified by the need for freedom of speech and that is why we think we have the balance right.

The recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights have frequently been quoted in debates on the Bill in your Lordships' House, so on this occasion I will quote back to noble Lords what that committee has said about this. It welcomes the new offence as a measure that enhances human rights. It also welcomes the fact that the offences are narrowly defined,

"so as to apply only to threatening words or behaviour intended to incite hatred".

Surely that is the relevant point. The committee took the view that this provides an appropriate degree of protection for freedom of speech. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also supports the new provisions, saying that they strike the right balance,

"between the need to protect freedom of expression and the need to protect especially minority groups from hatred ... We consider that the narrow wording of the offence and the high threshold test strike the right balance between those two desires".

Annotations

David Wright
Posted on 4 Mar 2008 1:16 pm (Report this annotation)

It strikes me as absurd for the government to disavow responsibility for criminal prosecutions and to hide behind the skirts of the DPP. It is the government which set up and sets the terms of reference for the DPP and theirs is the responsibility for the upholding of the law of the land. If the DPP is manifestly failing in its duty, the government has an overriding duty to put the DPP's house in order, or, if necessary, disband it and return to the former commonsense system whereby the police prosecute all offenders without fear or favour. If the police and courts lack the resources, it is the government's duty to supply that lack. It is the duty of the gevernment above all else to protect the citizen and the state from harm and, if it attended to that rather than to micromanaging matters which should be none of its concern, it would be better for all concerned.

david skinner
Posted on 28 Mar 2008 6:12 pm (Report this annotation)

The problem is, Lord Hunt, that when we talk about striking the right balance it all depends upon which set of scales we are using. Lady Justice who stands outside the Old Baily will have to keep removing her bandage in order to see who is coming and then choose a pair of scales accordingly. As for the Joint Council of Equality and Human Rights this is an appalling outfit and of course we know who one of the favoured commissioners is. Why? It is Mr Summerskill again. He certainly gets around.