Inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion, lack of religious belief, or race is a criminal offence in England and Wales under the provisions of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. A religious hatred charge may be brought against a person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, if he or she intends these actions to stir up religious hatred. The same principle applies to the stirring up of racial hatred and it can indeed be said that the use of threatening words or behaviour and the display of any written material which is threatening, may also be construed as incitement to racial hatred.
The major problem prosecutors may face in bringing charges of religious and racial hatred claims against individuals is the fundamental human right of freedom of speech or expression. At what point does the freedom of expression become an incitement for hatred? The burden is on the prosecution to establish beyond any iota of doubt that the offender is indeed guilty of the offence of stirring up of racial and religious aggravated hatred. Unless there is ample evidence to show that the offender had indeed intended his or her words and actions to incite hatred against a religious group or a race, it may prove difficult for the prosecution to convince the court of the offender’s guilt. On the other hand however, our task is to defend our clients against the charges they face and to lay particular emphasis on our clients’ fundamental human right of freedom of speech.
Sentencing for inciting racial or religious hatred
Where an offender is found guilty as charged and convicted on indictment of the offence of inciting racial and/or religious hatred, he or she may be sentenced to a maximum of 7 years in prison, or a fine, or both. Summary conviction will attract up to 6 months imprisonment and/ or a fine. These sentences show that the offence of inciting racial and religious hatred can be a serious one where the offender is convicted. Expert legal advice, representation and defence is therefore needed to avoid facing a potential prison stay for any period of time.
With the possibility of a prison term in either Crown or Magistrate’s court, the need to seek the professional assistance of a reputable criminal defence law network cannot possibly be higher. At London’s most prominent criminal defence law network, once we have gone over the facts of the case with you, we will first and foremost offer you our professional advice in relation to where the case should be heard; the Magistrate’s court or the Crown court. We will thereafter call upon our solicitors’ combined years of experience and knowledge of the law in preparing your case for trial. A very effective defence approach, depending on the circumstances of the case and the specific facts, could be to challenge the prosecution’s evidence of the ‘intention to incite’. We could also seek to rely on your human right and the freedom of speech or expression. We will, in any event, keep you adequately informed all through the case preparation. In the event that the matter proceeds to trial, we will continue to provide you with regular and immediate updates regarding the progress of your case.