Equality commission to review trans hate crime law

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

The chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has told PinkNews.co.uk that it will be reviewing the evidence regarding the need to criminalise incitement to hatred against trans people.

The government has brought forward a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, but said that there was insufficient evidence to extend the measure to the trans community.

A meeting of the ERHC commissioners last Thursday backed the new homophobic incitement legislation.

Ben Summerskill, a commissioner and chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“The commission is there to work on behalf of all communities in Britain and I am pleased that there was unqualified support for these protections.”

Controversial preacher Joel Edwards, who combines his role as head of the the Evangelical Alliance with that of a commissioner, was not present at the meeting but sent a message that he had considered the issue and he chose not to object. The commissioners are bound by collective responsibility.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission told PinkNews.co.uk:

“No one should be humiliated, belittled, attacked and denied access to justice because of their sexual orientation.

“The Commission has voted unanimously to support the government’s proposals on homophobic hate crime.

“However there continues to be a worrying lack of support in law for transgendered people. The Commission will be reviewing evidence to assess how much protection is still needed.”

Christian activist groups such as the Evangelical Alliance claim the new law will leave them “living in fear of prosecution” for expressing their Bible-inspired beliefs about homosexuality.

Justice minister Maria Eagle, in an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk last month, said the proposals to protect trans people would have to be presented with supporting evidence they are needed.

“One of the things you need to do if you are impinging upon free speech is be able to show for human rights reasons that there is a good reason for that to balance against the free speech rights,” Ms Eagle said.

“I’ve had some representations as you might imagine as a result of this. Anyone who wants to talk to us about this please do. We do, in order to impinge on free speech in this way, need to show that there is a reason.”

Ms Eagle said the protections against incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation do not pose a risk to free speech.

“It has not been our intention to outlaw people expressing their views, whether they be Christians or comedians, about the way other people live their lives.

“You can have protection against incitement to hatred and at the same time protect people’s right to express their free views. It’s a very important factor of our history and heritage, freedom of speech, and I hope we can do it right.”

Last month a committee of MPs approved the amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that will make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation an offence, punishable with up to seven years in jail.

None of the Conservative MPs on the committee voted against the proposals.

The Bill will now proceed to a report stage and third reading in the Commons before being sent to the Lords.