[ Home]  [ Criminal] [ Discrimination] [ International] [ Reports/Articles] [ My Services] [ Books] [ Links]
[Blasphemy] [Religiously Aggravated] [Incitement to Hatred] [Old Offences] [Cases]

RELIGIOUS CRIMINAL OFFENCES
(Religiously Aggravated Criminal Offences)

 The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created a new category of ‘Racially Aggravated Criminal Offences’ and Section 39 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 amended the Crime and Disorder Act so as to change the existing Racially Aggravated Criminal Offences into 'Racially or Religiously Aggravated Criminal Offences.  An offence becomes “Religiously Aggravated” where

 

 (a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or

(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.

 "Religious Group" is defined as

"a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief." 

 

and is therefore potentially very wide ranging. As worded Atheists classify as a religious group as do Satanists, Witches, and Believers in the second coming of Elvis as well as members of the more "mainstream" religions. 

 

It is important to understand that these changes did not actually create any new offences or make anything illegal that had been legal before. What the changes did was to increase the possible sentence for certain existing criminal offences which are committed in a Racially or Religiously Aggravated way. For example the maximum sentence for “normal” Common Assault is six months imprisonment but for religiously aggravated common assault the maximum sentence is up to 2 years imprisonment. Whether an offence is religiously aggravated or not depends on the facts of the case. If someone who happens to be a Mormon is assaulted then it is a ”normal” assault but if they are assaulted because they are a Mormon then it is a Religiously Aggravated Assault

 

 Whilst Religiously Aggravated offences of violence, quite understandably, raise extreme concern their creation does not raise any particular issues of principle. Ultimately violence is violence whatever its motivation. However issues of principle and arguments about the complex and subtle interrelationship between freedom of speech and religious insult can arise with regard to prosecutions for Religiously Aggravated Public Order Offences. In particular with regard to the concept of “insulting words or behaviour”. For a prosecution to succeed under Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 . it is necessary for the prosecution to show that someone has been harassed, alarmed or distressed by some words or behaviour used and also that the defendant "intended" to cause harassment, alarm or distress. However it is possible to be convicted under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. without there necessarily being any specific complainant. For a discussion on some of these difficulties read two Articles about Religiously Aggravated Offences. For an example see the case of Norwood v DPP [2003] EWHC 1564 (Admin)

 Racially or Religiously Aggravated Offences
( This is the wording of sections 28 to 32 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as amended by section 39 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Racially Aggravated offences provisions came into force on the 30th September 1998 and the Religiously Aggravated provisions came into force on the 14th December 2001. The provisions apply to offences after that date. )

 

s28 Meaning of "racially or religiously aggravated"

28. - (1) An offence is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of sections 29 to 32 below if-

(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or

(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.

(2) In subsection (1)(a) above-

"membership", in relation to a racial or religious group, includes association with members of that group;

"presumed" means presumed by the offender.

(3) It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) above whether or not the offender's hostility is also based, to any extent, on- any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph

(4) In this section "racial group" means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.

(5) In this section "religious group" means a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief."

 

s29 Racially or religiously aggravated assaults

29. - (1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits-

(a) an offence under section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (malicious wounding or grievous bodily harm);

(b) an offence under section 47 of that Act (actual bodily harm); or

(c) common assault,

which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section.

(2) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b) above shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or to a fine, or to both.

(3) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(c) above shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or to both.

 

s30 Racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage.

30. - (1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits an offence under section 1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (destroying or damaging property belonging to another) which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years or to a fine, or to both.

(3) For the purposes of this section, section 28(1)(a) above shall have effect as if the person to whom the property belongs or is treated as belonging for the purposes of that Act were the victim of the offence.

 

s31 Racially or religiously aggravated public order offences

31. - (1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits-

(a) an offence under section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 (fear or provocation of violence);

(b) an offence under section 4A of that Act (intentional harassment, alarm or distress); or

(c) an offence under section 5 of that Act (harassment, alarm or distress),

which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section.

(2) A constable may arrest without warrant anyone whom he reasonably suspects to be committing an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b) above.

(3) A constable may arrest a person without warrant if-

(a) he engages in conduct which a constable reasonably suspects to constitute an offence falling within subsection (1)(c) above;

(b) he is warned by that constable to stop; and

(c) he engages in further such conduct immediately or shortly after the warning.

The conduct mentioned in paragraph (a) above and the further conduct need not be of the same nature.

(4) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b) above shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or to both.

(5) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(c) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

(6) If, on the trial on indictment of a person charged with an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b) above, the jury find him not guilty of the offence charged, they may find him guilty of the basic offence mentioned in that provision.

(7) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c) above, section 28(1)(a) above shall have effect as if the person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress were the victim of the offence.

 

s32 Racially or religiously aggravated harassment etc

32. - (1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits-

(a) an offence under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (offence of harassment); or

(b) an offence under section 4 of that Act (putting people in fear of violence),

which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section.

(2) In section 24(2) of the 1984 Act (arrestable offences), after paragraph (o) there shall be inserted-

"(p) an offence falling within section 32(1)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (racially- or religiously aggravated harassment);".

(3) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) above shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or to both.

(4) A person guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(b) above shall be liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or to a fine, or to both.

(5) If, on the trial on indictment of a person charged with an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) above, the jury find him not guilty of the offence charged, they may find him guilty of the basic offence mentioned in that provision.

(6) If, on the trial on indictment of a person charged with an offence falling within subsection (1)(b) above, the jury find him not guilty of the offence charged, they may find him guilty of an offence falling within subsection (1)(a) above.

(7) Section 5 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (restraining orders) shall have effect in relation to a person convicted of an offence under this section as if the reference in subsection (1) of that section to an offence under section 2 or 4 included a reference to an offence under this section

Legal Advice and Representation, Training and Education
Contact     NEIL ADDISON     at     Religion Law