Introduction of hate crime/speech law in Gibraltar
Media release from Equality Rights Group
Equality Rights Group welcomes the introduction of amendments to the Crimes Act being presented before Parliament this week which will bring in protections for many previously unprotected sectors of the community on issues of hate crime and hate speech, amongst other changes.
‘We look forward, also, to the announcement of dates for parliamentary approval of Civil Partnership and Goods & Services legislative provisions’, Chairman Felix Alvarez stated, adding that ‘On the hate crime provisions, however, we are especially pleased that (unlike in some UK legislation) the provisions do not overstep the right to freedom of expression in a democratic society, achieving reasonable protections while safeguarding the right to free speech.‘Our general comments, additionally, cannot fail to highlight the positive process of dialogue and consultation which Government has instituted to take into account stakeholder issues and expertise in the process of defining new provisions. This has been a step forward for both Government and civil society,’ Alvarez added.‘This first of three new legal provisions Government and ERG are committed to making reality will address the issue of hate crime and speech via two basic routes: that of incitement to hatred towards a defined collective category (age, religion, sexual orientation, disability and race for instance) and that towards an individual via the device of introducing the recognition of ‘aggravation’ of well-established criminal offences (various types of assault to the person) which will mean the handing out of deterrent higher sentences as a result. Harassment (which entails either threat, abuse or insult – or all) is also extended to cover the new provisions.‘We are, nonetheless, concerned and disappointed to note that whilst, on the one hand (and unlike some UK legislation) no statutory duty to report is placed on the Police which means that, as happens, regrettably, in other areas of our social policy and legislation, there will be no obligation to public information or statistics on categories of offences for the community to be informed or for Government or concerned groups such as ourselves to be able to develop policy. The amendments will, nonetheless, increase the powers of Police to search homes under the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 2011 not only on suspicion of serious offences as was already the case, but also now on what are known as ‘summary’ ones – in other words, those which would normally be considered minor enough to only be dealt with at Magistrates Court level and without jury trial. While some of the summary offences which will now allow police to apply for search warrants may be fair (dealing in offensive weapons for example which may rightly be considered to justify far more than just ‘summary’ treatment), we will now find that also being suspected of driving under the influence or having a blood alcohol level above limits may now authorise the Police to search your home! We regret that this serious step should have been taken without sufficient or prominent public notice or discussion.‘We also question the various defences which are provided for in the Act with regard to hate crime. In effect, whilst ignorance of the law is commonly known to be an inadequate defence if at all, nonetheless the Bill provides for a defence in which it will be legitimate for an offender to claim they were ‘not aware’. Again, we find this provision questionable.‘All this said, clarifications and interpretations of the provisions will be tested in the Courts, and the Judiciary must be allowed to develop them on a real case-by-case basis when confronted with the detailed issues in real life situations. This does not detract from the fact that we look forward to the amendments’ parliamentary approval and congratulate Government on what is, clearly, an important step forward.