Sunday, May 11, 2008

Freedom of Speech Preserved in New Criminal Justice Bill

Questioning, or even criticising, the consensual sexual activities of another person is not to be criminalised in the UK.

In a triumph for common sense, the government has allowed a House of Lords amendment to its Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which explicitly states that questioning or challenging the sexual practices of another does not, in itself, constitute a hate crime under the new law.

The balance between protecting citizens from words and actions designed to create hatred towards them and guarding the freedom for the same citizens to express opinions freely and without fear seems to have been struck following the amendment. The relevant clause states:

"In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred."

Such diverse bodies as religious groups, stand up comedians and advocates of press freedom had expressed shared concerns that, without the amendment, the new Bill ran the risk of ciminalising a range of words and actions that have traditionally been regarded as issues of free speech.

The amendment makes clear that this is not the aim of the law - which instead seeks to focus on restraining extreme hate crime such as an incitement to kill gay people or to stone adulterers.

In short, common sense seems to have broken out at Westminster.

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