Britain is a much more litigious society than it used to be. Whereas in 1911 there was one lawyer for every 3,000 people, there is now one lawyer for every 400, a sevenfold increase. This is a consequence of law’s expanding empire. The sprawling arcana of UK civil code during the last century and a half, by which a system of top-down commands has gradually eaten away at the bottom-up, customary traditions of English society as enshrined in the common law, today reaches into every detail of social life. One casualty of this process has been the security of free thought and speech. The agents of law enforcement have become weapons in the hands of a powerful state. Gone are the days when the historian AJP Taylor could write that, “apart from exchanging pleasantries with the postman in the morning, the Edwardian Englishman never encountered the state.”
This is a long way from the Peelite ideal of a Britain policed by consent, so that organic adherence to a shared law which rules the conduct of all would prevail over speech codes decided and enforced from on-high. (If Peel had really desired the latter, he could have prolonged his own political career by turning his ‘bobbies’ on the pro-Corn Law trouble-makers within his own party—not least a young Benjamin Disraeli—during the 1840s.) Instead, statute law is now instrumentalized and the police called upon to reinforce the new state religion of equality and diversity. If the tradition of free expression must suffer in the name of what passes for Social Justice, then so be it.
Unlike in the United States, Britain has no constitutionally entrenched protections of free speech. Historically, the absence of any such guarantee has been more or less of a problem depending on the era in question. In good times, free speech did not need to be guarded constitutionally, for it was a customary right enjoyed by all Englishmen. It came under the banner of the many things which were permitted precisely because they were not expressly forbidden. But what if the culture shifts to make the free thought of citizens the business of lawmakers? Worse still, what if we find ourselves on the road to a society, as we do now, in which the opposite principle prevails: that everything is forbidden unless it is expressly allowed? At present, free speech must contend with two threats: 1) the proliferation of legal statutes eroding its value, and 2) the development of a culture—to which the British police are highly sensitive—that is selectively hostile and reactive only to certain varieties of ‘thought crime.’ The new paramilitary social worker will sooner quiz a TERF than catch a thief.
For the time being, ‘hate speech’ is not technically a recognized category in English law. However, our politicians have done everything possible to ensure that it may as well be. In 2001, a Christian was arrested for preaching in Bournemouth with a sign which read: “Jesus gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord.” Harry Hammond, the evangelist in question, was convicted, fined £300, and forced to pay costs of £395 to the prosecutors. All of this was carried out under the Public Order Act (1986). Section 4A, inserted in 1994, attempts to explain what counts as an offence:
- A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he —
a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
A byzantine web of such legalese now strangles the old liberties of Englishmen, such that police departments now show at least as much interest, if not more, in what people think and say as they do in obvious kinds of criminal behaviour. In 2010, Harry Taylor was also punished under the Public Order Act for leaving anti-religious cartoons in the prayer-room of a Liverpool airport. He was ordered to perform 100 hours of unpaid work and fined £250. In 2013, it should be said, the word “insulting” was removed from the legislation after a free speech campaign launched by the Christian Institute. Still, in our highly sensitive age there is no reason why terms like “threatening” or “abusive” cannot also be invoked by grievance-obsessed lobbying groups eager to have their critics thrown in prison.
The situation is even more dire in Scotland, which in March 2021 created a new offence: “stirring up hatred” by intent. Under the legislation, Scots can even be prosecuted for speech violations committed in private if they are deemed to meet the vague thresholds set up by lawmakers. An amendment to provide a “dwelling defence” to shield conversations in the household was rejected by the Scottish Parliament. The grounds for stirring up hatred are “threatening” or “abusive” behaviour designed to promote discrimination on the basis of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and trans identity. Falling foul of the speech code is punishable by up to seven years in prison. But what constitutes “abuse”? How are we to distinguish “hatred” from impassioned opinion to which ideologues take offence? Many outspoken conservatives will have been accused of at least one, if not both, of these vices in their time. What is to prevent left-wing activists from capitalizing on this ambiguity and wielding these indeterminate terms as convenient clubs against their enemies? Not even demonstrating the “truth” of what was said counts as a legitimate defence, according to the legislation, provided that “abuse” or “hatred” are perceived or felt by the ‘victim.’
Police are only too happy to act on this sort of legislation. More alarming, however, is the way in which they will often rush ahead of the curve, eager to showcase their politically correct credentials and their commitment to fighting ‘hate speech’ in the name of ‘community cohesion.’ A fine example is the police’s autonomous creation of a very modern kind of offence, ‘non-crime hate incidents,’ the legal authority of which was admirably challenged by Harry Miller (mentioned in the last article) in Britain’s highest courts. The idea was that by inventing this category of offensive speech, police departments could pro-actively prevent ‘hate crimes’ before they get committed, in much the same way that UK officers, before it became unfashionable, used to patrol the streets in order to deter real law-breaking.
Miller won his legal case against the College of Policing, which since 2014 has instructed constabularies to interpret and record “non-crime hate incidents” as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice.” Originally, the High Court ruled that the actions of Humberside Police, which harassed Miller in order to “check his thinking” (a real quotation from the police involved) on ‘trans’ issues, represented a “disproportionate interference” in Miller’s right to freedom of speech, but they threw out Miller’s secondary challenge to the College of Policing guidance on ‘non-crime hate incidents.’ The judge ruled that this totalitarian category of offence, despite never winning parliamentary approval, served “legitimate purposes.” (In the last five years, the police recorded such incidents against 120,000 people.)
However, the Court of Appeal later ruled that not just Humberside Police, but the guidance itself as it then stood, unlawfully violated the basic free speech rights laid down in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The guidance has since been updated, but ‘non-crime hate incidents’ have not themselves been abolished, as they should be, from police practice. Many might wonder why a nominally Conservative government of twelve years’ standing has not passed a one-line bill making it unequivocally illegal. A country in which the police can record and retain the thought crimes of citizens, without notifying them of any alleged offences and yet storing them in such a way that they will show up on a DBS check, has ceased to be free.
It comes as little surprise that police concern around “hostility” or “prejudice” only ever manifests in a one-way direction. ‘Community cohesion’ sounds like a lovely idea, but in practice it operates as an excuse for smuggling in the view that the police exist, at least partly, to side with those considered victims according to the hierarchy of wokeism. This is seen in the proclivity of constables as well as senior officers to paint their faces in ‘LGBT’ colours for much of the year, or to drive around in rainbow-coloured cars, or to video each other ‘twerking’ and ‘grinding’ at Pride marches. Lincolnshire Police recently rose to the defence of their officers who had been filmed dancing the Macarena at a local Pride event. Many unenlightened trolls wondered whether this overtly political gesture was the most profitable use of law enforcement resources, but Lincolnshire Police fired back at these primitive bigots:
Policing [the force explained in a Twitter thread] is not just about enforcement and patrol but about engagement, understanding and being part of the community. We want everyone attending Lincoln Pride to know that we are there for them and that our service to Lincolnshire communities is truly inclusive.
Just how “inclusive” are we talking? More mischievous conservatives should test the strength of this commitment. Organize an anti-abortion ‘March for Life,’ invite the police to join in public prayer for the immortal souls of unborn children, and wait to see what sort of uptake you get from these self-proclaimed darlings of community engagement. If they say “Pride is not political in the way that pro-life demonstrations are,” then play the game and respond: “What could be less political than defending powerless unborn babies against infanticide?” Anything can be made to seem ‘above politics’ if sufficiently cloaked in the rhetoric of high moralism. The fact remains that Pride is a highly political event, devoted to celebrating the dogmas of leftist identity politics and smearing anyone (including gender-critical women and lesbians) who dissents from the tiresome shibboleths of ‘intersectional’ theory.
Race is another complicated issue within the police force, which remains desperate to avoid any accusations of ‘institutional racism.’ One of the authors used to live next to an ex-police officer who left after he was attacked by a young man who had thrust a knife into him several times, thankfully only cutting open his uniform jacket and leaving him with just superficial wounds. It was not the incident that made him leave the police force, but the response of the official management, which chose not to act and let his attacker walk free the next day. “They don’t look after their own,” said the neighbour, “and if they can get away with it, they will inquire no further if any incident involves someone from an ethnic minority.”
Another incident involved a friend of one of the authors, Tom, we’ll call him, who ended up in a road rage incident after a man swerved in front of him on the road, putting him and his family in danger. After both men got out and exchanged a few sharp words, they returned to their cars and Tom thought that was that. Tom had been disturbed, however, by the fact that the dangerously driving man had immediately shouted, “Are you a racist or something?” Why, Tom thought, should the man’s skin colour have anything to do with it? At the next traffic lights, the man pulled up beside Tom’s car and showed him a large knife, shouting, “I’m going to kill you and your family!” The man then proceeded to pursue Tom’s through much of south London.
Tom called the police and asked for a police car to meet him at a particular spot. On arrival, the police were not there. Around and around Tom drove, all the time being followed. When the police finally did turn up, the knife-wielding man drove off and the police did not pursue him. Instead, on receiving a description of the man, the police threatened Tom. They said that if Tom reported this incident and gave them the number plate of the aggressor, this man would likely make an accusation against Tom, and they would have no choice but to log that accusation. This would leave Tom with a police record, which would likely obstruct employment opportunities in the future. With that, the two police officers returned to their vehicle, leaving Tom and his visibly distressed wife and children on the pavement.
The recurring anxiety of the police to avoid being seen as in any way racist is now well-established. Notoriously, a hideous sex-slavery ring that preyed on minors and vulnerable young adults was permitted to operate for decades in Rotherham, south Yorkshire. The Muslim gangs in the area, mostly comprising Pakistani men working as taxi drivers, had been picking up children for sex from care homes and schools. The abuses to which these disregarded youngsters were subjected included gang rape, forcing children to watch rapes, dousing them with petrol and threatening to set them on fire, threatening to rape their mothers and younger sisters, and trafficking them to other towns where they were subjected to similar tortures by fellow gangs. Consequently, there were many pregnancies—one of a girl aged 12—forced abortions, deliberately induced miscarriages, and babies taken away and then trafficked. The police in the area, as it turned out, were aware of these monstrous activities for decades, but neglected to act due to their fear of being seen as ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic.’
What such examples show is that the police no longer respond to the imperatives of the law which rules us all, or protect our shared way of life—the enjoyment of which is the birthright of all His Majesty’s subjects—from needless disturbance or outright evil. Instead, the old ‘bobby’ has been replaced by a new commissar, far more interested in pleasing his politically correct superiors than serving the public.
Meanwhile, real crime continues to exist. As Anthony Daniels of this parish has pointed out, the number of recorded crimes per prisoner in Britain has gone from around six in the early 20th century to around 114 today. It seems reasonable to conclude that modern police, if they even bother making convictions, are not putting the fear of swiftly dispensed justice into the hearts of criminals, most of whom are already hardened offenders by the time they see the inside of a prison.
Then again, it must be difficult to police the streets effectively when a decent chunk of the budget is spent on recording ‘non-crime hate incidents;’ patrolling Twitter; decorating police vehicles in the garish colours of the ‘LGBT+’ religion; paying the salaries of ‘Diversity,’ ‘Equity,’ and ‘Inclusion’ tzars; and pursuing naughty little ‘transphobes’ to the ends of the earth for speaking basic truths that we all accepted until yesterday. Any Conservative government worthy of the name would abolish the lot in one legislative swoop.
The total police budget for 2022/23 is estimated to hit around £16.9 billion. There is no argument for defunding the police. But there is a strong case to be made for creating a new cadre of public-spirited officers who cherish the Peelite ideal of a free country policed by consent, ready to take over once the current army of commissars—soft on actual crime yet tough on the basic freedoms which were once synonymous with England—can be safely abolished.