Chief Rabbi backs call for new hateful extremism laws

The Commission for Countering Extremism warns that groups spreading antisemitic hate go unpunished because of gaps in existing legislation


Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has voiced support for a report calling on the government to introduce new laws to target those who engage in hateful extremist activity not covered by existing legislation.

The Commission for Countering Extremism warns that gaps in the law allow groups - including Neo-Nazi organisations praising the actions of Adolf Hitler and encouraging members to spread Holocaust denial material and antisemitic conspiracy theories – to “operate with impunity in Britain.”

It says the internet has meant that children are increasingly drawn into extremist ideologies, including the belief that the Holocaust was exaggerated or a hoax.

The report calls on the Government to build a new legal and operational framework to counter this growing threat.

The review into the laws around hateful extremism - led by the government’s independent adviser on extremism, Sara Khan and former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations for the Metropolitan Police Sir Mark Rowley - said existing hate crime and counter-terrorism legislation served its purpose.

But it said attempts to capture hateful extremism through the lens of counter-terrorism policy and legislation was  "a flawed approach."

The study said that in order totackle hateful extremism there was need for sanctions against those who intend to radicalise and groom young people into extremism through radicalisation, recruitment and dissemination of extremist propaganda.

Published on Wednesday, the report detailed how it was still lawful to publish and distribute material to intentionally stir up racial or religious hatred as long as the material avoids being threatening, abusive, or insulting in its content.

It is also possible, the study said, to intentionally stir up racial hatred, so long as one avoids being threatening, abusive or insulting.

The inability of governments to effectively address extremist behaviour was exemplified by the activities of hate preacher Anjem Choudary.

Responding to the study, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said: “I commend the work of the Commission for Countering Extremism in shining a spotlight on hateful extremism and seeking to redress worrying gaps in the law.

“The prevalence of hateful extremism which currently goes unchecked, drives wedges between groups in our society, poisoning relationships and causing considerable damage.

“I welcome this conversation and hope that, upon further exploration, gaps identified can be closed, so that hate-ridden behaviour is severely curtailed in its ability to unpick our precious social fabric and undermine our democracy.”

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron also said they supported the findings of the new report, along with religious leaders including Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Imam Qari Muhammed Asim, Chair of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board.

The report highlighted how hateful extremist activity – which seeks to erode and diminish the fundamental rights and freedoms of our democratic society – should be examined through the lens of Article 17 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.

It said Article 17 provided democracies with a robust tool to protect themselves from extremist activity which seeks to subvert democracy and destroy our freedoms and rights.

Examples include Islamists who recruit youngsters to support a repressive theocratic caliphate threatening to undermine our democracy and neo-fascists who radicalise people into believing non- white citizens are a threat to Britain.

The language of implied violence and intent to overturn democratic norms is clear, the report says.

It noted how children as young as 12 were increasingly being drawn into extremism through the internet.

Mark Gardner, chief executive of the Community Security Trust added: “Hateful extremism poses a significant and enduring threat to our communities, and the Commission’s report makes a compelling case that existing legislation is not capable of addressing the problem.

“This is especially the case when it comes to online incitement on extremist social media channels, which is completely out of control. There is an urgent need for new legislation to fill this gap.”

At the launch of the Home Office Commission’s review ex-Met Police chief Sir Mark referenced a recent study which showed that 15 per cent of young people believed the official account of the Holocaust was exaggerated or incorrect.

He said of the study: “This is a very depressing number with the antisemitism dynamic … extreme left, extreme right and Islamists all have antisemitic content they produce.”

Sir Mark said that while reputable companies took steps to remove hateful material, social media outlets such as BitChute were “providing a deliberate home for it.”

The report warned that there had been a legislative failure under successive governments  to focus on and address hateful extremism. This failure is creating an ever-bigger pool for terrorists to recruit from, by creating a climate conducive to terrorism, hate crime or other violence through radicalisation, recruitment and dissemination of extremist propaganda.

This included the lack of criminal sanctions against those who intend to radicalise and groom young people into extremism, despite the harm it causes them.

The report criticised previous and continuing attempts to focus on hateful extremism through the lens of counter-terrorism policy and legislation, arguing this was a flawed approach.

It suggested counter-terrorism legislation was rightly focussed on the problem of terrorism and should not be expected to capture the breath of hateful extremism as identified in the report. For many years Islamist or neo-Nazi groups ensured they do not cross over into the threshold of terrorism, allowing them to operate lawfully and freely.

Lead Commissioner Sara Khan said: “Since the 2005 London bombings, one of the long-standing conundrums for the British government has been how to deal with extremist groups or individuals who are not caught by counter-terrorism legislation, but who are creating a climate that is conducive to terrorism and other societal harms.

“Previous attempts - such as the 2015 Extremism Bill – were unfocused and rightly criticised because of an inability to ensure the protection of freedom of expression and other civil liberties.

“Our report shows how it is possible to square this circle. We have charted a path the government can take which will ensure protection of freedom of expression while restricting the dangerous activity of hateful extremism.

“Extremist groups whether neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, Islamist or others are able to operate lawfully, freely and with impunity. They are actively radicalising others and are openly propagating for the erosion of our fundamental democratic rights. Their aim is to subvert our democracy. This is a threat to our civilised democratic order, which cannot be taken for granted and requires a robust, necessary and proportionate legal response.

The report called on the government to commit to devising a new legal and operational framework to capture the specific activity of hateful extremism.

It suggested that without such a framework this activity would continue unchallenged and the many harms it is causing in our country will continue to persist and worsen in the next decade.

Sir Mark added: “Not only have our laws failed to keep pace with the evolving threat of modern-day  extremism, current legal boundaries allow extremists to operate with impunity.

“They are carefully steering around existing laws in the ways we describe in our report, openly glorifying terrorism, collecting and sharing some of the most violent extremist propaganda, or intentionally stirring up racial or religious hatred against others.

“Hateful extremism is creating an ever-bigger pool for terrorists to recruit from, as well as increasing violence, hate crime and tensions between and within communities.

“Over the decades, Britain has built a robust legal and operational counter terrorism machinery which has continually evolved in response to the changing terrorist threat.

“The same is certainly not the case for hateful extremism. The current situation is simply untenable.”

Avoiding setting out detailed proposals of a legal framework, the Sir Mark said that the government’s “robust” Online Harms White Paper should give a “higher priority” to tackling hateful extremism.

It also recommended expanding  current offences relating to stirring up of hatred and strengthen current resources and capability of law enforcement agencies.

The framework could also include new powers for law enforcement agencies and regulators, the  banning groups who intentionally and persistently engage in hateful extremism and the imposing of conditions on individuals.

It would also include safeguards for journalists, academics and others.  

Ex-PM Blair said the proposals put forward by the Commission  “deserve serious consideration by the Government.”

Mr Cameron added: “The fact that someone like Anjem Choudary was able to radicalise and poison the minds of so many people with such tragic consequences for so long without apparently breaking the law demonstrates that the law needs changing.”


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