Current Affairs

Free speech amendment will stay in homophobia law

Jessica Geen November 12, 2009
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The government has admitted defeat over an amendment protecting free speech in homophobic hatred laws.

Last night, the House of Lords voted again to keep the amendment in the law, which is part of the Coroners and Justice Bill.

As the parliamentary session ended today, the Ministry of Justice was forced to admit defeat, saying the bill could no longer be delayed.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the government was “very disappointed” at the Lords vote, adding: “There is no doubt about the threshold of this offence. No ‘freedom of expression’ section is needed to explain it. The threshold is a high one.

“The offence only covers words or behaviour that are threatening and intended to stir up hatred.

“As this parliamentary session ends today we can no longer delay the passage of this Bill.

“It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the government has agreed not to remove the ‘freedom of expression’ section.”

The spokeswoman added that the government would seek to create an offence of inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation as soon as possible.

The government maintained that the amendment was unnecessary but concerns were raised that without it, the bill could lead to religious people being prosecuted for questioning homosexuality. Some comedians also expressed concern that they could fall foul of the law for making jokes.

Gay Labour peer Lord Smith warned last night that allowing the amendment could lead to an increase in homophobic attacks.

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