Women's rights campaigners condemn Law Commission

Women’s rights campaigners condemn Law Commission for rejecting calls to make misogyny a hate crime after review found it could make rape and domestic abuse prosecutions more difficult

  • Independent body argued that the move risked creating ‘hierarchies of victims’
  • Instead said ministers could extend ‘stirring up hatred’ to include sex and gender
  • 20 women’s rights organisations and activists said recommendations fell short

Women’s rights campaigners have criticised the Law Commission for rejecting proposals to make misogyny a hate crime. 

The independent body, which recommends legal changes, argued the move would create ‘hierarchies of victims’ and make rape and domestic abuse prosecutions more difficult. 

Currently, there are five protected characteristics under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020: race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity. 

Campaigners wanted sex and gender to be added to this, so crimes found to be motivated by a hatred of women were categorised as hate crimes and received tougher sentences. 

But instead the commission suggested ministers extend ‘stirring up hatred’ under the Public Order Act 1986 to include doing so on the grounds of sex and gender. This would make it an offence to make comments in public that are seen as promoting hatred of women. But these would be prosecuted under public order rather than hate crime legislation. 

In a report published today, the commission also indicated the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment.

Women’s rights campaigners including Labour MP Stella Creasy were frustrated at the Law Commission’s recommendation that misogyny should not be made a hate crime 

But a statement by 20 women’s rights organisations and campaigners including Labour MP Stella Creasy and former Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Sue Fish, accused the commission of falling short. 

They said: ‘The commission’s review is too narrow and doesn’t recognise the value of including misogyny to enable recording of incidents, which are currently invisible. 

‘By not joining together hate crime legislation, it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too often are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick boxes.

‘This report must not be used by the government to kick action on violence against women and girls into the long grass and instead should support proposals for legislation now, including urgently rolling out the recording of misogynist crimes to all police forces. 

Call to outlaw incel ideology to tackle violence against women 

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent for the Daily Mail  

Hate crime laws should be extended to cover extreme misogynists who incite attacks on women, the report advised.

The Law Commission highlighted ‘several acts of extremist violence’ inspired by the ‘involuntary celibate’ or ‘incel’ ideology.

‘In response to the growing threat of ‘incel’ ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending, we recommend the creation of an offence of stirring up hatred on the basis of sex or gender,’ its report said.

The commissioners said it would not apply to behaviour that was ‘merely offensive’ but behaviour that ‘clearly incites acts of hatred and violence’.

The report added: ‘What we are referring to is threatening or abusive material which incites and glorifies violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls, and praises men who murder women.’

It referred to the case of Jake Davison, 22, who shot five people dead in Plymouth in August. He had posted a series of hate-fuelled online rants inspired by the ‘incel’ movement, which espouses violence against women whom they blame for their inability to form sexual relationships.

‘Women and girls have waited too long to be equally protected and will continue to fight for this.’

The commission said prosecuting people who stir up hostility on the basis of sex or gender would combat the ‘growing threat’ of extreme misogyny. 

It said so-called ‘incel’ culture – found among ‘involuntary celibate’ people in an ‘overwhelmingly male online community’ which believes society is defined by physical appearance – had the potential to lead to serious criminal offending.

Its 550-page report to the Government contains 34 recommendations, and makes passing reference to the case of Jake Davison, who murdered five people in a shooting spree in Plymouth in August this year, amid claims he had ‘sought out Incel material and posted videos online expressing Incel sentiments’.

It also suggested the Government undertakes a review of the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment. 

Other recommendations include reforming hate crime legislation to ensure that disabled and LGBT+ victims receive the same protections as victims with other protected characteristics, such as race and religion.

Professor Penney Lewis, Law Commission spokesman, said: ‘Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent.

‘Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.’

In England and Wales, ‘hate crimes’ are generally used to refer to the aggravation of the seriousness of existing criminal offences, such as assault, harassment or criminal damage, because there is an additional ‘hostility’ element.

Racial hate crime laws were introduced following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and have since been further expanded to include religion, disability and sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

However, free speech campaigners sounded the alarm last night – arguing the sweeping expansion of hate crime laws would leave people ‘fearful of expressing their views’. 

The Government’s official advisers on legal reform proposed granting special protection from prosecution for those who express ‘gender critical’ views, such as feminists voicing doubts that a man can change his sex to female.

Former Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Sue Fish was also a signatory to the statement 

But despite that concession, critics warned the drive towards ever-more proscriptive hate crime laws was damaging to free speech, with one saying the proposals risked a form of ‘state fascism’.

As a result, the proposals mean some offences against transgender people could attract longer jail terms than those aimed at biological women.

Extreme views at the dinner table WON’T be criminalised 

By David Barrett 

Proposals that would have criminalised hate speech around the dinner table have been dropped.

The Law Commission had planned to end an exemption to hate speech laws that applies to views expressed in a dwelling.

A consultation paper published last year suggested scrapping the ‘poorly targeted’ exception, as a public meeting could take place in a home and a private conversation could take place outside a home.

But after an outcry – highlighted in the Mail last November – the commission has U-turned in its final proposals published today. The paper said: ‘We consider this exception to be poorly targeted. For example, the exception would protect a public meeting in a private house, but not a private conversation in a family’s car or holiday accommodation.’

Instead, it suggested replacing the exemption with a broader exception for ‘private conversations’. 

The paper said: ‘We have concluded that simply repealing the dwelling exception would not strike the right balance between the need to protect against propagation of hatred and incitement to violence and illegality, and respect for a person’s private, home and family life.’ 

It comes after repeated attacks on Harry Potter author JK Rowling for expressing concerns that women’s rights are being eroded by trans activists.

And in October philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock resigned from her academic post at the University of Sussex after being accused of ‘transphobia’.

Dr David Green, chief executive of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘The Law Commission’s proposals will do nothing to protect Kathleen Stock or JK Rowling.

‘The law in a free society should allow people to know whether they will be arrested or not. We are creating more and more areas where people can never quite be sure of that. The outcome is that people are fearful of expressing their views.

‘The law does not belong in the realm of opinion, unless those speakers stray into an incitement of violence.’ Harry Miller, of the free speech pressure group Fair Cop, who was investigated by police for retweeting an allegedly transphobic limerick, said: ‘The law is moving from protecting the individual towards protecting and regulating ideologies, and that is a form of state fascism.

‘The Law Commission has said that gender critical views should be exempt but that is the wrong way to look at it. We should never need permission to criticise an ideology. That permission should be taken for granted.’ The Law Commission said its recommendations ‘would not criminalise ‘offensive’ comments’, nor criminalise those who told sexist jokes.

‘They (the proposed changes) would not stop people discussing differences between the sexes or articulating views on the suitability of women for positions in religious or secular authority,’ the review said.

‘What we are referring to is threatening or abusive material which incites and glorifies violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls, and praises men who murder women.’

It also suggested the Government ought to consider whether a ‘bespoke public sexual harassment offence’ should be created, rather than a hate crime offence.

It said: ‘Existing offences which currently apply to abuse and harassment of women in public spaces are quite heavily focused on threatening and abusive words, and disorderly behaviour.

‘A specific offence addressing public sexual harassment might be crafted in a way that better captures the degrading and sexualised nature of the behaviour that frequently occurs in these online and offline contexts.’ 

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