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We don’t need new laws on free speech

There is no specific UK law prohibiting anyone from having or expressing a negative opinion against any religious group and for many people that would seem a very sensible position.

And yet a group of Parliamentarians is seeking to introduce a new legal protection from what is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful of all religious groups, Islam. They claim a new definition of Islamophobia is needed to protect Muslims.

In 2008 English lawmakers chose to abolish the law of blasphemy following a campaign led by, among others a Muslim, an Archbishop and Peter Tatchell one of the UK’s most articulate advocates of human rights. They wrote this:

“We share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters or intimidate small theatres, print media or publishers. Far from protecting public order – for which other laws are more suited – it damages social cohesion.”

I suggest nothing has changed in the 11 years since this law was abolished to warrant allowing partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters or intimidate.

Everyone in the UK has the right to Freedom of Religion, protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

However it’s not the only right of the individual and it doesn’t trump Freedom of Expression.

Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish.

A ‘phobia’ is defined as an ‘an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something’ – and such irrational, phobias cannot and should not be dealt with by the imposition of legal powers.

We already have sufficient and numerous laws which might be used to prosecute those who seek to offend. Stirring up religious hatred is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986. In addition, the Equality Act 2010 stops discrimination based on ‘protected characteristics’ including religion.

An unofficial 1997 wording defined Islam phobia as ‘unfounded hostility towards Muslims’.

Des Morgan, Caraway Drive, Swindon

Lessons to learn

Oh Yes! Barrie Hudson in his eight points in respect of the Highworth Election Calamity ( Adver, May 14) covers well the “affront to democracy “.

Returning officer’s responsibilities cover the following: “ Double-check that the result is accurate and that it is written in the form of words for oral delivery in order to avoid errors.”

Simply it means reading the sheet from beginning to end. If that had been done the reader would have observed that the number of votes cast was less than the number awarded to the second candidate named on the sheet. This should have immediately cancelled the declaration.

As RO you are subject to breach of official duty provisions. This means that if you or your appointed deputies are guilty of any act of omission in breach of official duty are liable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine.

Regulation 3.14 says: “Where you remedy an act of omission by using your power to correct a procedural error you will not be guilty of an offence of breach of official duty.”

3.15 adds: “You should be prepared to demonstrate robust planning and decision-making processes in the event of any challenge.”

The majority of ROs command a fee in this case it might be good reason for its return.

Mick Bray, Freshbrook, Swindon

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