We reported last week on the arrest of Guramit Singh, the spokesman for the English Defence League. Mr. Singh is now facing a “hate speech” charge in court.
Nick is a regular reader and commenter here at Gates of Vienna. He dug into the legal background of the case against Mr. Singh, and posted the results at The Frozen North. With Nick’s kind permission, his report is republished below.
Guramit Singh was arrested on 21st December on suspicion of intentionally causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress. This followed an EDL protest in Peterborough on 11th December.
The offence in question is defined in Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. The ‘religiously aggravated’ component of the charge is defined in Part II of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The term ‘religiously aggravated’ is defined in Section 28 of the Act and its application to the public order offence which Mr. Singh has been charged with is defined in Section 31 of the Act.
If one researches the basic offence which Mr. Singh is charged with, one finds that it did not exist when the Public Order Act 1986 was enacted. At that time, in accordance with Section 5 of the Act, one could be found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within earshot of someone likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. Upon summary conviction, one could receive a fine of up to level 3 on the standard scale.
This changed with the enactment of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Section 154 of that Act defined a new offence, that of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress. This was then inserted into the Public Order Act 1986 as Section 4A, and it is this legislation that has been cited by the Cambridgeshire Constabulary in the arrest of Guramit Singh. Note that if one is found guilty of this offence then one is liable to a prison term of up to six months, a fine of up to level 5 on the standard scale, or both.
One finds then that if Mr. Singh had been charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 he would have faced a fine of up to £1000. Since he has been charged under Section 4A of the Act, Mr. Singh faces a fine of up to £5000 or up to six months in prison, or both.
The offence is made even more serious by the inclusion of the term ‘religiously aggravated’. As Section 31, sub-section (4) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 states, if one is found guilty of an offence under Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 which is ‘religiously aggravated’ then one faces, on summary conviction, up to six months in prison or a fine of up to the statutory maximum, or both. On conviction on indictment however, one faces a prison term of up to two years, or a fine, or both.
Sub-section (6) of Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 also indicates that on trial on indictment, even if one is found not guilty of intentionally causing ‘religiously aggravated’ harassment, alarm or distress one can still be found guilty of the basic offence as defined in Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986.
Since Guramit Singh was at an EDL event when he did whatever the Cambridgeshire Constabulary thought contravened the aforementioned legislation, anyone who might be at an EDL event in the future would do well to make sure they understand the relevant laws. After all, they could be next.