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Legislating against hate: outlawing racism and anti-semitism in Britain

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date1999
JournalCritical Social Policy
Number of pages13
Original languageEnglish


Racist violence across Europe in recent years has presented a serious social problem. In Britain, the British Crime Survey has revealed that racist incidents are far more extensive than the number represented by police statistics, and the extent of the problem presents a considerable challenge for policy intervention. The inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence has recently forced the issue of racist violence onto the public and policy agenda. But scholarly analysis of the problem is in its infancy, and the emerging literature has neglected antisemitic manifestations. There has also been little evaluation of policy intervention, and especially the role that legislation might play. Legislation against racially motivated violence has provided a key element of the Labour government's intervention against crime and disorder. Possible legislation against holocaust denial and a review of provisions against incitement to ‘racial’ hatred have also been on the policy agenda. But legislating against racism and antisemitism confronts a potential conflict between claims to freedom of expression and rights to freedom from acts of violence, threats, hostility and damage. It is timely, therefore, to evaluate the dilemmas confronting legislative intervention. In considering the moral and practical difficulties involved, this article argues that it is possible to legislate against acts of racism and antisemitism without unjustly curtailing the rights of the perpetrators of such acts. Practical limitations remain, however, and there is a need for policy learning from measures that have been established in European countries and elsewhere.