Reich, meaning realm, empire or kingdom. 3rd Reich – famously used to describe Germany under Nazi rule, as successor to the preceding Holy Roman and German empires. But the 4th Reich is not confined to Germany. The 4th Reich is global.
In October 1933, as Hitler consolidated his stranglehold on power, an edict was issued requiring Germans to report anyone who spoke against the party, its leaders, or the government. The decree, “For the Defence against Malicious Attacks against the Government”, imposed penalties of between three months to two years imprisonment, including penal servitude if the offence caused damage to the Reich, and/or a fine. A year later this was extended to include malicious or rabble-rousing remarks against the Nazi party or its leaders
(https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-6/spying-family-and-friends). Propaganda was similarly targeted at children, who were encouraged to see that Nazi rules were upheld and to report critical remarks made by their parents or within the family.
Suppression of political dissent was similarly a hallmark of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ weeded out dissidents and resulted in millions – many of whom were actually innocent – being either executed or sent to the infamous Gulags. While Stalin was reputedly paranoid, seeing challenges to his leadership on all sides, the apparent over-riding aim was far simpler – to preserve, enhance and unify the Communist party (https://www.history.com/topics/russia/great-purge). In the same way in East Germany, the Stasi – the notorious East German secret police – actively worked to suppress all dissent, building up a network of informants charged with reporting anyone and everyone critical of the government … who were then ‘dealt with’ (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07393149308429674?needAccess=true&journalCode=cnps20).
The policing of opinion and suppression of free speech are hallmarks of repressive totalitarian regimes.
Now, in a chilling move reminiscent of such authoritarian and tyrannical dictatorships, the Law Commission has proposed that so-called ‘hate speech’ uttered in the privacy of the home should be criminalised. (https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/uploads/2020/10/Hate-crime-final-report.pdf).
A little bit of history: Up until 1986, it was an offence to express words or behaviour likely to incite racial hatred in a public place. But that year the Public Order Act extended provision to include private areas – such as people’s homes. However, Parliament then included in the legislation an exception protecting from prosecution abusive and insulting words or behaviour that took place within a private dwelling: known for short as the dwelling exemption.
The Law Commission, however, has branded this exemption inconsistent and confusing, and says the law needs to be ‘improved’ (see sections 18.250-18.255ibid). At the same time, a similar position has already been put forward north of the border, under the new Scottish Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, with Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf insisting that ‘hateful speech’ in the home must be subject to criminal liability (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/hate-crime-bill-hate-talk-in-homes-must-be-prosecuted-6bcthrjdc). Should this pernicious proposal be adopted, it will undermine the democratic freedoms on which the UK is founded.
Under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to express and manifest such beliefs in public without interference by public authority. In the same vein, under Article 8, everyone has the right to respect for his or her family and private life … again without interference by public authority.
The proposed reform now put forward by the Law Commission violates such rights. If adopted, it would destroy freedom of speech, criminalising unguarded remarks made in the privacy of the home and encouraging a climate of possibly ill-motivated and malign ‘snitching’. In a civilised society it is necessary to avoid rights being abused. But we must be vigilant that even seemingly well-meaning attempts to regulate such rights are not a cloak to emasculate them.
VfJUK asks what possible justification there could be for such a move, beyond that of imposing conformity with rebranded morality and views sanctioned by the State as ‘acceptable’. Such so-called reform must be resisted.
The Law Commission’s lengthy Consultation Paper on “hate crime laws” can be found at https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/uploads/2020/10/Hate-crime-final-report.pdf.
It asks 62 Questions (see pages 514-533), to which it invites responses (see page iii on how to respond). The proposal to remove “the dwelling exception” is specifically discussed at paragraphs 18.250 to 18.255. At paragraphs 18.256 to 18.257, the Commission asks Question 51: whether you agree that “the current exclusion of words or behaviour used in a dwelling from the stirring up offences should be removed”.
The Commission has invited views by 24 December. We urge you to send your views to them.