Christians welcome free speech guidance for police officers

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Christian Institute has welcomed updated guidance for police officers that raises the threshold for recording 'non-crime hate incidents'.

New interim guidance has been issued by the College of Policing to help officers manage complaints from the public where an incident is said to be motivated by hostility or prejudice. 

The changes "seek to redress the balance between freedom of speech and protecting vulnerable members of the public", the college said.

The guidance is intended to reduce the "unnecessary" recording of non-crime hate incidents by making clear that records "should not automatically be created" when an incident is reported, it added.

The guidance states that incidents "should not be recorded where they are trivial, irrational, or if there is no basis to conclude that an incident was motivated by hostility". 

It also protects people engaging in "legitimate debate". 

"Individuals who are commenting in a legitimate debate – for example, on political or social issues – should not be stigmatised because someone is offended," the guidance states.

It adds that where a non-crime hate incident is recorded, this "must be done in the least intrusive way possible – for example, it may not be necessary to record the name of an individual or the location of an incident". 

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, College of Policing CEO, said, "The public rightly expect the police to focus on cutting crime and bringing criminals to justice.

"While we work to protect the most vulnerable in society, we also have a responsibility to protect freedom of speech.

"This updated guidance puts in place new safeguards to ensure people are able to engage in lawful debate without police interference."

He added, "The police regularly deal with complex incidents on social media. Our guidance is there to support officers responding to these incidents in accordance with the law, and not get involved in debates on Twitter."

The College of Policing is working with the Home Office on a new code of practice about recording non-crime hate incidents, expected to be published later this year.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the National Police Chiefs' Council's Hate Crime Lead, said, "It is essential that the harm caused by such incidents, and the motivation they can have on others, are recognised.

"At the same time, we must make sure that our responses are proportionate, so that human rights freedoms are protected, while also safeguarding members of the public.

"As such, we welcome this guidance from the college, which will support the public, uphold human rights freedoms and help officers monitor harmful incidents, responding appropriately when required."

The Christian Institute's Deputy Director Ciarán Kelly has welcomed the guidance.

He said: "For too long, non-crime hate incidents have been used as a weapon to shut down legitimate debate on issues such as transgender ideology and sexual orientation, but it's not the job of officers to police perceived offence."