Select Committee on Selection Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-559)

WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2002

MR RAMESH KALLIDAI, DR GIRDHARI LAL BHAN, MRS KAMLESH BAHL AND MR SAUNAKA RSI DASA

  540. I think we realise this. I suspect what you both said just now will challenge a lot of questions, but apart from education and discrimination, which are outside our terms of reference, can you point us to any particular legislative action that could usefully be taken because that is actually what we have got to try and recommend.
  (Mrs Bahl) I wonder if I could come in here at this point in time and just talk about why we think there is a need for legislative action. It is for two reasons. One is to provide a raft of rights to those who are suffering from religious hatred, but it is also about the reflection of the importance and the values that the legislators are putting on the protection of those rights, which is equally important within those communities. So if we trace it back to, for example, laws on discrimination, laws on equality of opportunity, they are important (a) to provide the protection to the individual, but (b) as a reflection of what the legislators consider to be important to protect within that community at that time. That, I think, is really the fundamental reason why we think there should be legislative intervention in this area. The laws of blasphemy, in our response they set out the reasons as to why we think that that is not the way forward. It is because the purpose of the law of blasphemy was to protect the majority Anglican faith. It is incapable of adaptation in a multi-cultural environment to then be extended to other faiths as well. I think that that would be the wrong way to go in terms of trying to create a raft of rights. There is quite clearly a need for legislators to say that religious hatred is unacceptable in Britain today and therefore it should be on the legislative books and therefore it should be a criminal offence. That really is our starting point.

  541. Very well. I am sure somebody else would like to ask a question.
  (Mr Kallidai) Perhaps we could also go through some of the questions in the order in which they were sent to us and respond to them by way of answering them sequentially. I think there were some interesting examples of incitement to religious hatred. So we have documented certain instances of that and I would like to quote from some of them as well.

  542. We would very much like to hear an example from you because this would help us a lot, definitely.
  (Mr Kallidai) In December 1995 a hate letter was sent to parents of Hindu and Sikh students at Slough and Eton school. The text of the letter, which was written by the Chalvey Muslim Boys, was as follows: "This is more or less an Islamic school. We Muslims don't want "Kafirs" such as Sikh and Hindu children in the school to mix with our children. If your children come to this school we will bully you boys like the way we did to the boy who committed suicide and we will make your daughters pregnant and change them to Islam". So this was the text of the letter that was sent. In our opinion, this was definitely incitement to hatred and not respectful to the Hindu way of life. In February 1998, this is another example, the International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders issued a document containing the following fatwa, a religious decree to all Muslims. I quote the words "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilian and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it. Occupying their embassies and forcing closure of their banks". There is also another incident in September 2001, the Saudi Airlines staff at Heathow, The Observer paper actually reported this which I think is also incitement to religious hatred, they had hate graffiti in toilets saying "Kill Muslims" and "Muslim scum". There is another example which I recently came upon which may not be incitement to religious hatred, but in our opinion it is vilification and ridiculing the Hindu belief system. This is an article published in July 2000 by the Christian Medical Fellowship and the article was written by Juge Ram who is a convert from Hinduism to Christianity and I quote from his article which was published July 2000 and is at present on their web site. The article says as follows: "Hindus are lost and spiritually blind. They are without hope in this world and in the next. Only Christ can release them. Hinduism is a false religion". So in our humble opinion we think this is definitely vilification and ridiculing one billion Hindus worldwide who are established in a particular religious system.

  543. That is not incitement to religious hatred, as you say.
  (Mr Kallidai) No, that particular example is not incitement.

  544. It is an example of a pretty extreme point of view.
  (Mr Kallidai) That is right.

  545. But one surely that would have to be tolerated under the European Convention?
  (Mr Kallidai) I suppose one could tolerate it, but again the question arises of whether freedom of expression goes with responsibility of expression as well.
  (Mr Dasa) I must say I do agree with you as someone who lives in Oxford. I do not have a problem with a pastoral expression from a religious tradition. I think a stronger example that you have there is the burning of the Ealing temple in 1995, which is a practical example of incitement to religious hatred by affected very obviously. To just note up a point you asked Dr Indarjit Singh, you talked about the effectiveness of trying to prove intent. In the case of Northern Ireland where in the British Isles I think it is the best example we have of some of us had hate incitement with religious incitement involved in since the 1970s, it has been very ineffective legislation and the very fact is it is so difficult to prove intent. But it does not look at effect, it looks at intent in terms of the religious aspect and it has not worked in Northern Ireland.

  546. What you have said has raised a number of questions, but you have not finished and I am going to come back to you in a minute. First perhaps we could deal with questions from The Bishop of Portsmouth and Lady Richardson. I promise you, you shall finish what you have to say.
  (Mr Kallidai) Sure.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

  547. The first example that you gave of the letter that went to Hindu parents seemed to present an actual threat to children. Did you take that to the police and what was the reaction?
  (Mr Kallidai) I am not aware of what happened in 1995 as a reaction to that, at the moment, but I can definitely inquire about it.
  (Dr Bhan) Could I answer that? In many instances like that the police say they are unable to take any action.

  548. You have actually taken this kind of thing and you have been told that you have no protection under the law?
  (Dr Bhan) There are other instances like that. This is just one and we do not blame them. They say a crime has not been committed and until we have evidence that a crime has been committed, they are unable to take any action. It is difficult to find the source of such letters and so on and it is a very sensitive issue. These are the words.

Chairman

  549. Was there any discussion about the difference between incitement to violence and incitement to hatred? Because there is in law a very substantial difference.
  (Dr Bhan) Yes. I cannot answer that, My Lord Chairman, but I feel that this was not discussed.
  (Mrs Bahl) I think we have to get to the principle where it is not complex, but easy for somebody who is in a situation where they have been threatened to exercise their rights and it is easy for those who are enforcing the law to actually be able to apply that. Earlier on in your discussions with Dr Bhan, the distinction between religious and racial hatred, in some instances there will be no distinction at all, there will be a combination of the two, but in some there will and I think what we have to try and do is we have to get into the shoes of those who are suffering. That is a very threatening communication to receive as a parent and, therefore, what is it that can be done to help those parents to deal with that. I think we also have to take into account that, in a number of circumstances now, it is extremely difficult to actually enforce a law as it exists. You mentioned, I think, earlier on about the paucity of prosecutions partly because they have to be approved by the Attorney General under the Public Order Act. The reality is we have to understand the impact that that has on the community, because the community therefore feels that it is not protected and that becomes, in itself, a disincentive to actually go to the authorities and report the breach of the law because it is a cyclical process and I think they feel vulnerable. So I think we have to look at it in the overall context as well.

  Chairman: I think we have this very much in mind, but I think the Bishop of Portsmouth wants to put a question at this point.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  550. I think I would really like, first of all, to say about the vilification issue which you mentioned, yes, we deeply and I personally deeply regret these occasions, but in the work of this Committee, which is to try to define effectively the difference in racial and religious hatred, I could give you lots of examples of articles in the press which I find deeply offensive as a Church of England Bishop, but living through a time where it is a kind of hobby to criticise all historic institutions. One sees this beginning now to happen in the Roman Catholic Church which has had an easy time. Now I am not saying it is a good thing, but I have to put what you have just said both in the context of me deeply regretting that this goes on, but also saying there is this burden of free speech which many people see as less burdensome and that is regrettable.
  (Mrs Bahl) Can I just comment on the balance between conflicting human rights, because that is what we are talking about here, the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and there is the conflicting right which is the freedom of expression of speech. I recall the debate that took place at the time that we were looking at the offence of racial hatred. There was a lot of debate about the violation of the freedom of expression rule and I think the practical application of the offence and the way that it is rolled out has not led to a violation of the freedom of expression. I think our starting point has got to be, rather than reinventing the wheel, I think if we go back to the rights as they are expressed in the Convention on Human Rights, which sets out the concept of freedom of religion and sets out the concept of freedom of expression, but has a restriction in relation to freedom of expression, where it is drawing a line itself between freedom of expression and comments that are made which affect national security, direct oral integrity, public safety, prevention of disorder or crime. So there is a recognition that freedom of expression is not an absolute right. In addition, under Article 14, there is also an express recognition that the rights and freedoms set out in the convention shall be secured without discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, religion. So it is understood that these rights are not totally inviolate, not absolute, but they have to be exercised within parameters. What I would suggest is that that is an excellent starting point which we can use because within that—and then following on from some of the discussion that was taking place earlier on about who is going to—

Baroness Wilcox

  551. Can I just interrupt there? It is very interesting for me to hear you read that out and to hear the rider that you had read on that. Is that not enough then? The Human Rights Legislation in itself?
  (Mrs Bahl) The Human Rights legislation in itself, in terms of you mean the criminal side?

  552. I was just listening to you and thinking that sounds pretty reasonable and that sounds more helpful. It is just not enough on its own? You would still require a new law of religious offences here?
  (Mrs Bahl) Yes, that would be to encapsulate that into the criminal law in this country, the concept of religious hatred. So what I am saying is, take those principles and make it a specific criminal offence in this country. So we do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Chairman

  553. The trouble about this is that there is no option about the European Convention, it is with us. You have got Article 9, you have got Article 14, you have got Article 10 and one of the restrictions that you were talking about is an infringement of the rights of others. That is what actually what Otto Preminger was all about, the Austrian case. Where we are having grave difficulty is, first of all, where do you draw the line and who draws the line? Apart, of course, from it having been decided at some superior level in a court.
  (Mrs Bahl) Yes, okay.

  Bishop of Portsmouth: If he is pushing you, it is not that we are being very distinct. We are trying to help and sometimes the truth emerges from that kind of seeming conflict.

  Chairman: Thank you for coming to my rescue.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  554. The nice bishop rescuing the nasty judge.
  (Mrs Bahl) No, this is an issue that also exercises us because equally for the Hindu community, freedom of expression is as important as protection from incitement to racial hatred. In terms of how this is dealt with, we have got a model in this country. You have got a political person, the Attorney General, who will decide the prosecutions that are there that need to be brought under this. We are not particularly comfortable with that model and quite clearly, given the decision about the Home Secretary's powers on Monday, it is only a question of time before political intervention, the judicial system will be stripped away more and more. So that is on the up. We think that this is something that should actually be left to develop in the courts. I say that because I do have a great deal of respect for the judiciary in this country. They are fair minded. They maybe need a little more training and awareness perhaps in relation to different religions, if we were to introduce this concept of religious discrimination and religious hatred. You would need to have a greater level of awareness. But if it is left there, it develops as a body of law which is then an evolving and a dynamic process. I think that is probably the best way to do that, but you have to have that with a commitment and a will to prosecute and take seriously where there are examples of incitement to racial hatred because, unless you have a constant stream of prosecutions, that body of law will never develop.

Chairman

  555. I am not going to tempt you into a discussion about how you direct the jury on this or indeed what preliminary ruling the trial judge might have to make. One does have to think about those things too, doesn't one?
  (Mrs Bahl) But it is also a process of evolution and as more and more cases are there, the awareness increases. If we look at, for example, laws relating to rape in this country and how they have developed and the consciousness and awareness has developed around the laws of rape and violation of a woman's rights. That has taken a period of time. None of this is going to be achieved overnight, but if the process is there and it is enforced and prosecuted with a level of seriousness and the messages are there, then I think it will lead to a greater evolution.

  Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: I wonder if I could ask one question?

  Chairman: Yes, please do. After that I want to get back to the basic text that he wanted to put over to us.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

  556. Can I ask you, if there was to be a new law, how would that law relate to the fourth example which you gave, Mr Kallidai, about the medical organisation?
  (Mr Kallidai) I do not foresee such a so-called offence can be legally enforceable in the sense of the word and therefore it really boils down to individual responsibility in making such statements.

  557. You would say that one is individually responsible and if an ethos could be created which would prevent statements like that being made, that would do it?
  (Mr Kallidai) That is right, yes.
  (Mrs Bahl) It is the deterrent effect and it would also be, in the Christian Medical Fellowship, what they do after this stage. This is like an incitement to their people to—and a criticism of Hinduism, but it is the actions they also take in consequence of that philosophy that themselves would probably fall within the ambit of incitement to racial hatred.

  Chairman: One more question, the Earl of Mar and Kellie. I do want to go back because he had not finished, but let's have your question first.

Earl of Mar and Kellie

  558. Following on the question about the Christian Medical Fellowship, it struck me from what you read out was that they were just making unpleasant statements, to put it mildly, but they were not actually telling any lies about the Hindu religion in the sense that they were not actually putting out any false remarks which were possibly going to distort people and mis-educate them. Could telling a deliberate lie in order to misinform people be called—
  (Mr Kallidai) I think to say that all Hindus are spiritually lost and blind and that Hinduism is a false religion is not something that most Hindus would agree to be a truthful statement, so to speak. So we come into areas of greyness here where one religion believes one statement to be true and another religion believes it to be untrue. Which is one reason why the law of blasphemy cannot work because what is blasphemous to one religion is the truth to another. So the reason why I pointed this out was merely to illustrate this point that one billion Hindus would not agree with the statement that the Christian Medical Fellowship people have made. So therefore would vilification be an alternative to legislate and if vilification is what needs to be legislated, then how do you prove intentionality? Because it has been proved by race legislation that it is very easy for the victim, because it depends on the victim now to say that this act of aggravation is a race related aggravation, but the police and the criminal prosecution service find it very difficult to prove that this was indeed a race related aggravation. Therefore we find that the number of cases registered for race related crimes is huge but the number of prosecutions is minuscule. Therefore, what the Select Committee, we feel, should look into is in case verification of offences, religious offences is actually considered as an act, is how do we prove intentionality which is so difficult to prove.

Chairman

  559. I make no promises, but I think you may have said some things that will get reproduced in our conclusions, in one shape or form. I think a very valuable contribution indeed, but you had not finished with the things that you wanted to say to us.
  (Mr Kallidai) I thought it would be helpful perhaps to go through some of the questions that the document you have sent us raised and then provide some feedback on that. One of the questions was "Are there any issues under the heading of religious offences which the Committee could or should examine? In particular, are there any issues in relation to offences arising out religious discrimination?" We feel that the definition of religion by itself is not very clear in any legislation that is proposed or already existing and it seems very difficult also to define religion because of fear of what might be left out or what might be included inappropriately. Therefore, the question is; do we define some parameters within which a religious belief or a lack of religious belief is defined or left undefined? Which is a question that needs to be addressed by the Select Committee. One way forward was also to let case law interpret the definition of religion. So we are a bit concerned about the lack of clarity on this issue.


 
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