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On Monday 21 August, The Guardian published an article, discussing an opinion published in the same paper on the same day by Alison Saunders, CB, a British barrister and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The opinion is a stark example of a seeming one-sidedness of important government officials.
Announcing that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will henceforward treat online ‘hate crimes’ as seriously as those committed face to face, Saunders defends this new approach by claiming that there is a:
common thread that links online purveyors of hate with those who commit physical hate crimes. That is, the desire to undermine and instil (sic) fear in those they target, both individually and collectively.
She then continues by giving the definition of hate crime used by both CPS and the Police, which is both wide and completely subjective:
“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”
Saunders continues by arguing that because online abuse cannot cause direct physical harm, “it can never be considered or sentenced in the same way,” while in the very next sentence negating this statement by claiming “we know online hate crime has devastating effects.” Saunders claims that:
When an ever greater amount of our time is spent online, it is only right that we do everything possible to ensure that people are protected from abuse that can now follow them everywhere via the screen of their smartphone or tablet. Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on a wall or tweeted into their living room, hateful abuse can have a devastating impact on victims.
The idea that there is a difference between being confronted by someone in real life versus online, where most of the time ‘abuse’ can be avoided with the click of a mouse, seems not to present itself to Saunders. Focusing on ‘online abuse’ seems even more like an excuse for policing of thought when Saunders presents what she considers to be its main victims.
The sad fact is that some groups in society still believe that such abuse is part of everyday life. Police statistics show that religiously motivated hate crimes increased fivefold in Manchester in the weeks after May’s attack, while hate crimes against Muslims tripled in London in the week of that atrocity and then almost doubled again in the week after the June attack at London Bridge. Home Office figures, meanwhile, show a 20% rise in reports to police, covering all forms of hate crime, during the first quarter of this year.
It seems the CPS is stepping up its combat against online ‘hate crimes’ in defence of, effectively, in its own words, Muslims. Apparently, dozens of people being killed in religiously motivated violence doesn’t require a CPS response, but (over)reaction just after a horrendous attack is ‘religiously motivated hate crime’, requiring the response of police and Public Prosecutors. Saunders has not inferred from her own motivation about abuse in the virtual world has real-world consequences, that real-world abuse also has virtual world consequences. Worryingly, the new plans do not require parliament to pass new legislation, with Saunders deciding that they do not threaten the right to free speech.
Saunders has not inferred from her own motivation that abuse in the virtual world has real-world consequences, that real-world abuse also has virtual world consequences. Worryingly, the new plans do not require parliament to pass new legislation, with Saunders deciding that they do not threaten the right to free speech.
Meanwhile, even the Guardian, in its article on the new CPS policy actually criticises it in a roundabout way, by citing a Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) survey that shows that 52% of British Jews believe that prosecutors are not doing enough to combat antisemitism, with only 39% confident that hate crime perpetrators would be taken to court. While 2015-2016 may have seen “15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest figure on record, with a conviction rate of 83.2%,” those cases prosecuted were not aimed at antisemitism.
According to the CAA’s Stephen Silverman:
The reason for the failure of the CPS to prosecute antisemitism seems to be a matter of willpower, not a lack of proper guidance. The relentless three-year rise in antisemitic crime has been met by a decrease in the already low prosecution rate for offences against Jews and a complete lack of transparency by the CPS with regard to the manner in which it deals with antisemitic crime. Our latest survey of the Jewish community shows the extent to which it has lost confidence in the will of the criminal justice system to protect it. Unless the CPS changes its stance towards crimes committed against Jews, the perpetrators will be emboldened to continue offending and Britain’s Jewish population will continue to worry that it does not have a long-term future in this country.
The CPS will go after ‘hate crimes’, it seems. But only if it is against very specific victims. The fact that Saunders chose, of all newspapers, The Guardian to publish her ‘opinion’ is telling in and of itself. Take note of the third panel. Would the CPS prosecute that as a hate crime?
We’ll know more tomorrow: