Ignorance remedied

There appears to be an unusually large epidemic of ignorance in blogland concerning English law, particularly with respect to burglary and freedom of speech. But don’t worry, SBBS will enlighten you.

Most importantly of all, unless you are qualified to practice law in the UK [1], you should not try and derive what you can and cannot do based on your interpretation of what the words in a given piece of legislation mean. This is not relevant.

Case law is, however, relevant. For existing laws, this means "who has and has not been convicted under this law, and what sentence the ones who were convicted have received". The burglary example is easy, then: you have the right to kill a burglar in your house unless the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were not acting in self defence. This is not possible unless you shoot the burglar as he runs away, stab him 12 times in the back, or do something equally vicious, murderous and depraved. The only people to be convicted are people who fail to follow these guidelines (pleading guilty to a crime that you are not guilty of is unwise and unfortunate, but again easily avoided).

Case law is also frequently important for new legislation. David Blunkett’s daft religious hatred law is an example: it (literally) takes the existing racial hatred law and adds ‘or religious hatred’ to it [2]. This makes racial hatred caselaw directly relevant.

You have to try very, very hard indeed to be convicted of incitement to racial hatred. Delivering a speech or handing out leaflets that say "How do you fight a Jew? You kill a Jew" or "The Jewish people must die" will do it (Jews and Sikhs are considered races in the context of this law). Distributing the blood libel [3] also cuts it, presumably because of its history, as does malicious Holocaust denial ("I don’t think the Holocaust really happened" is a legal thing to say; "The Jewish scum made up the Holocaust so they could claim eternal victimhood and continue to rule the world" is not). Trying to stir up a local race war also does the trick. That’s about it.

So according to precedent, making a speech that says "send the blacks home", writing a book that claims black people are stupid, defaming Guru Nanak, or even performing a black-and-white minstrel show in which Guru Nanak denies the Holocaust will not earn you a conviction – unless it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that you’re doing so in order to stir up a race war.

I don’t like the principle that the new law would bar me from standing in Brick Lane shouting "Islam is bloody stupid! Go study some science!". But a post on a weblog saying "Islam is bloody stupid; people who currently follow it should go study some science" will not be criminalised. And it’s important that people are aware of this, since it would be a shame if they avoided perfectly legal criticisms of religion through fear of prosecution.

Indeed, most of the blame for the misunderstandings surrounding this law falls on the government: they seem to be trying to convince Muslim lobby groups that the law will ban many more things than it actually will. Presumably they figure that by the time the Muslims notice that it doesn’t, the election will already have happened. And George Galloway will have won Bethnal Green & Bow anyway…

[1] I am not. If I were, I wouldn’t post anything that could be construed as legal advice on a weblog, as I could be held professionally liable for any advice I gave.

[2] Religious hatred is defined as hatred towards "a group of persons defined by religious belief or lack of religious belief". And yes, I know this involves my interpretation of what the words in a law mean; in this particular context this is permissible, since the way the law defines ‘religious’ is not at issue.

[3] The claim that Jews drink Christian babies’ blood. This is not only a nasty meme, but a very strange one, given that observant Jews aren’t allowed to drink anything’s blood.

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Better living through hanging

I’m planning to look at this study in more depth over the next couple of weeks. On first reading, it appears to be a work of tenuous premise-begging hackery; however, it would seem fair to look at the stats in more detail before dismissal.

If anyone reading would care to do likewise (especially if they’ve got a background in academic statistics rather than just business analysis) and share their conclusions, I’d be extremely grateful.

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Deliberate self-blinding

I’m not talking about Oedipus, for once. Rather, I’m talking about the ability of anti-immigration types [*] to delude themselves into completely ignoring the evidence.

Out of the last four prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred in the UK, two (this one and this one) involve crazy Muslims suggesting that killing the Jews would be a good move. Two (presumably – I haven’t been able to dig up the records) involve more traditional racists.

I’ve therefore offered the assorted people of Samizdata a £50 bet that at least one of the first four people to be convicted under the new ‘incitement to religious hatred’ law, should it pass, is a crazy Muslim who wants to kill (Jews/Hindus/Sikhs/Crusaders/apostates/anyone else of whom they disapprove). This wager, naturally, also applies to anyone reading this at SBBS.

A couple of people immediately took the wager, saying things like "you only have to look at how the existing laws are used in the UK today. They are not used to curb the militant Islamists, who openly preach hate and violence every day", and "I am willing to bet no adherent of [Islam] will be charged". Fair enough; riches for me. I’m just impressed by their willingness to completely ignore facts in the cause of a good rant.

[*] They’re not racists, they just think our society is being undermined by people with strange religious views, disgusting and unusual foodstuffs, and a history of oppressing women.

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Latin spirit

Latin America is clearly a terrible, godless place – especially for unworldly Brits. Why, Mr Hutton has been drawn into a murder conspiracy, and Mr Salad can’t even find a decent pub.

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This Man Has Not Seen Gimme Gimme Gimme

British TV is certainly responsible for some exceptionally good comedy programmes, particularly ones which are a single writer’s personal creation – and it’s nice to see an American critic acknowledge this.

However, the hideousness mentioned in this post’s title single-handedly drags the UK’s average sitcom quality down well below that of Chad or Mongolia. And that’s even before taking My Hero into consideration.

If you do find either of these shows funny, please let me know in the comments, so that I can take steps to have you painlessly neutralised.

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No sympathy

Peter Webster is morally equivalent to Bryan Drysdale. Given that Mr Drysdale killed Mr Webster’s daughter, this is probably not an irony that the latter would relish.

At worst, Mr Drysdale sought to take a trainload of passengers with him while killing himself, by parking his car on a railway line. At best, his disregard for the danger to others while pursuing his aim of killing himself was reckless.

Mr Webster’s disregard for the danger to others while pursuing his own aims is clearly similarly reckless. Should his legal action against the train company who he believes killed his daughter (despite Mr Drysdale’s blatant culpability) succeed, UK train companies would be forced to provide seatbelts.

The direct cost of providing seatbelts would be significant. The indirect cost, however, would be enormous: such a move would mean an end to standing on long-distance trains in the UK – and therefore, an end to the turn-up-and-go system that we currently have, and a dramatic reduction in peak hour capacity. Such a change would significantly reduce the proportion of journeys taken by rail.

Since cars are an order of magnitude more dangerous than trains, this would – very really, very literally – kill people. More people than Mr Drysdale. Hence the moral equivalence.

(BTW, if I ever become deranged enough that I attempt to cause people’s deaths in order to ease my suffering, please can someone shoot me?)

(link via Longrider. See also Safety is Dangerous at the now-sadly-defunct Transport Blog.)

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I disagree with the UK’s planned religious hatred laws on principle. There are no sensible grounds to make a distinction between shouting "kill all Muslims" and "kill all Bolton fans" – being a Muslim or a Bolton fan is an individual act of choice, and both identifications are shaped but not determined by one’s cultural background. Neither group is inherently harmful, even if both could be described as somewhat misguided.

But while it’s wrong for the law to treat the two utterances differently, the new laws’ practical impact on satirists, or indeed almost anyone else, is zero. Saying "Islam is bollocks" will be legal; taking the piss out of Mohammed will be legal; saying "kill all Muslims" will be illegal – just as currently in the UK, saying "blacks go home" is legal, taking the piss out of Nelson Mandela is legal, and saying "burn down the blacks’ houses until they go home" is illegal.

Under the UK’s existing ‘incitement to racial hatred’ laws, there are less than four prosecutions a year. The people prosecuted have included antisemites (of various colours) and black power demagogues (including the first person prosecuted under the laws), as well as white anti-black and anti-brown racists.

In other words, only people who make blood-curdling threats of death to people of different faiths will face legal action, and historical precedent does not support the hypothesis that only people who make anti-Islamic comments will be targeted. Indeed, given that they’re the main group in the UK to make such blood-curdling religious threats on a regular basis, I’m strongly expecting some extremist Islamists will be among the first groups to be prosecuted. If anyone is.

(this is an expanded version of a comment I made over at Discarded Lies)

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