The Government has rejected proposals by OutRage! to amend the Human Rights Bill to ensure the antidiscrimination clause –Article 14– is interpreted by the courts to ban discrimination against lesbians and gays and people with HIV (and the elderly and disabled).
It has also turned down OutRage!’s bid to amend the Crime and Disorder Bill to extend the tough new penalties for race-hate attacks to all prejudice-motivated violence, including assaults on homosexuals.
PROTECTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION — Human Rights Bill
In a letter to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien says the Government is “unable to accept” the OutRage! amendment to the Human Rights Bill.
“The amendment might lead to our courts interpreting Article 14 more widely than has been interpreted in Strasbourg … that would be contrary to the principle of the Bill which is to improve access to the Convention rights, not to modify or widen them”, wrote Mr. O’Brien.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! denies this: “Our amendment does not create new rights or expand the scope of Article 14. It seeks to ensure that Article 14 is interpreted, as worded, to guarantee equal treatment to everyone, without discrimination”.
HATE CRIMES — Crime and Disorder Bill
Responding to OutRage!’s hate crimes amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, Mr. O’Brien wrote: “The Government wants a focused response to racist crime, which poses a particular threat to the development of a stable society. Many of our citizens suffer daily fear that they will be attacked or harassed because of their racial background. Any addition to include homophobic violence risks diluting the message that we want to send”.
According to Peter Tatchell: “The Home Office is saying that homophobic hate crimes don’t merit tougher penalties. This sends the wrong signal. Queer-bashers will now conclude that the Government is soft on antigay violence. The Home Office policy is divisive. All crimes of prejudice should be punished with the same severity”.
The Goverment’s rejection of OutRage!’s proposals comes after five months’ consultation and negotiation, including a Home Office meeting between Peter Tatchell and Mike O’Brien.
OutRage! is now organising backbench MP’s to table revised amendments. It expects them to be debated when the two Bills come up again in Parliament.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 9-November-1998.