The guidance means personal data will only be recorded for incidents motivated by intentional hostility and where there is a real risk of significant harm.

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New statutory guidance on the recording of so-called non-crime hate incidents will ensure police prioritise freedom of expression, the Home Secretary has announced.

Under a new draft code of practice laid before Parliament today, the police will only record non-crime hate incidents when it is absolutely necessary and proportionate and not simply because someone is offended. The measure will better protect people’s fundamental right to freedom of expression as well as their personal data.

The draft code follows concerns around police involvement in reports of ‘hate incidents’ which are trivial or irrational and do not amount to a criminal offence.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

I have been deeply concerned about reports of the police wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country.

We have been clear that in recording so called non-crime hate incidents, officers must always have freedom of expression at the forefront of their minds.

The new code will ensure the police are prioritising their efforts where it’s really needed and focusing on tackling serious crimes such as burglary, violent offences, rape and other sexual offences.

The draft code introduces new safeguards to ensure that personal data may only be included in a non-crime hate incident record if the event is clearly motivated by intentional hostility and where there is a real risk of escalation causing significant harm or a criminal offence.

It addresses concerns that those who express views which some consider offensive, but are not against the law, are at risk of becoming the subject of a non-crime hate incident report, and that this may result in their personal data being stored on a policing record.

Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp said:

We are committed to supporting the police to fulfil their vital role of keeping the public safe, including tackling the scourge of hate crime.

Their focus must remain on catching dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice.

That’s why we’re taking action to ensure a clear threshold must be met in order for incidents of this type to be recorded.

The code will better protect people’s fundamental right to freedom of expression as well as their personal data, while continuing to ensure vulnerable groups are appropriately safeguarded.
It also provides detailed guidance on freedom of expression, and clear case studies to illustrate how this fundamental right should be considered by the police.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson of Greater Manchester Police said:

Crimes that are motivated by hate cause great distress for the victims, many of whom can be both marginalised and vulnerable. It is right and proper therefore that the perpetrators of hate crime are dealt with robustly and prosecuted in line with the well-defined legal provisions which are specifically designed to safeguard the interests of the victim. The duty of the police in these cases, as with all incidents of criminal offending, is to do our outmost part in ensuring that justice is properly served.

It is not automatically unlawful to say or do things which can be unpleasant, hurtful, distasteful or offensive. This guidance is replete with sensible  provisions to safeguard victims of hate crime and better distinguishes between that which should involve the police and that which, in a free country, should emphatically not. It gives effect to what the public actually expect the police to do. I support the new code of practice and consider the revised guidance to be fair, timely and welcome.

The new code will provide democratic oversight to the recording of non-crime hate incidents, as it is subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. The College of Policing will update their operational guidance so that it is in line with the new code.

It is the latest measure announced by the Home Secretary focused on delivering ‘common sense policing’, which includes putting more police officers on the beat and focusing on tackling crimes that impact people the most.

Under the government’s unprecedented recruitment drive, we are on track to deliver 20,000 additional police officers by the end of March – which will see the highest number of officers in England and Wales in history.

Police forces across England and Wales have agreed to send an officer to attend every domestic burglary and the government is working on an action plan to crack down on anti-social behaviour causing misery in communities.

And last month we set out plans for a new agreement between policing and health partners to free up police officers’ time to focus on fighting crime after concerns over the amount of resource being diverted away from police work to respond to mental health emergencies.

We are determined to reduce unnecessary burdens keeping police from their primary focus – fighting crime and keeping people safe.

Published 13 March 2023