Now revising those rules

James Kirkup thanks Harry Miller and Fair Cop.

He talked to Harry almost three years ago about what the cops had done.

After all, he’d broken no law, and even the police force involved confirmed that. Instead, he was contacted and a record was made of his conduct under rules around ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (NCHIs). These were introduced after the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, with the intention of giving the police a means of tracking behaviour that, while not crossing the threshold of a crime, gave a fair indication that a person’s actions were likely to escalate to full-blown crime.

Aaaaand does that apply to gender critical tweets? Are gender critical opinion-havers likely to commit full-blown crimes?

Of course not.

What happened next was a legal campaign lasting almost three years that has seen not just Humberside Police’s treatment of Miller ruled unlawful last year, but the whole NCHI regime called into question by the Court of Appeal.

That latter ruling came this week and would have been bigger news were it not for the Covid blight. In short, the Court accepted Miller’s argument that rules on the use of NCHIs set by the College of Policing for individual constabularies were too broad and blunt. The application of those rules cast the net for hate incidents too widely, and thus risks a ‘chilling effect… on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression’.

The college is now revising those rules, hopefully returning the hate-incident regime to its original, narrow and valid purpose. Ministers may change the law too, via the Policing Bill now in the House of Lords. There is talk of tens of thousands of NHCIs being stricken from the record. Harry Miller v The College of Policing is therefore a big deal, important for the way we conduct ourselves as a society and the way we deal with difficult, contested ideas.

The subject was discussed in the House of Lords last month, too.

My point is that the failures of the NCHI regime were plain to see, especially to the politicians, lawyers and officials who are supposed to make sure that stupid policies get fixed, or at least, get made a bit less stupid. But it wasn’t those people who fixed the NCHI regime and its chilling effect on free speech. It was Harry Miller and his fellow campaigners from the Fair Cop group he founded: Sarah Phillimore, a barrister, and Rob Jessel, a writer.

They didn’t have to, he says, they could have had a quiet life, he says, but they did it anyway.

Harry Miller and his friends didn’t have to have that fight. But they did. They fought and they won. They corrected a wrong, and made public policy better. There isn’t much positive news these days, but that really is a good story.

You’re darn tootin’, as Helen Joyce put it.

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