Barrister challenges police on “unlawful” hate crime guidance

The High Court

Sarah Phillimore crowdsources for judicial review against the College of Policing after local force records gender critical tweets as “non crime hate incident”

9 November 2020 – A barrister is challenging police hate crime guidance in court after her local force recorded her tweets as a “hate incident”, even though there was no evidence that a crime had been committed.

Sarah Phillimore is a family law barrister and one of the UK’s best-known commentators on police harassment of people who express gender critical views, having co-founded the Fair Cop campaign with Harry Miller in May 2019. 

In June 2020, an anonymous Twitter account boasted that Sarah now had a “record for life” as the result of allegedly hateful tweets. Sarah contacted her local force, Wiltshire Police, who confirmed that twelve pages of tweets had been recorded as a transphobic and religiously aggravated “non-crime hate incidents”. 

None of these tweets could rationally be described as hateful. They include: denying that transwomen are biological women, referring to male sex offenders housed in the female prison estate as “men”, and discussing her dog’s liking for cheese.

Under current hate crime guidance published by the College of Policing, forces must make a record of any reported hate incident, and must not question the motives or rationality of the person reporting.

After Wiltshire Police denied her the opportunity to challenge the recording of this “hate incident”, Sarah today announces that she intends to bring a judicial review against the College of Policing on the grounds that its new guidance on hate incidents is unlawful. 

“We all agree that the police need access to the right information to help combat crime, but the information they are gathering for ‘hate crime’ purposes is unlikely to be of much, if any, use to them,” said Phillimore. “It could even be actively harmful, since it allows recording of allegations that may have no rational basis or even be false and malicious. 

“My lawyers will argue that the College of Policing’s guidance is unlawful, running contrary to the Data Protection Act 2018, GDPR and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which define political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs as sensitive and personal data,” she continued. 

“I have been effectively given a criminal record for ‘crimes’ such as joking about my dog. Last year, Harry Miller memorably described HCOG as a hecklers’ charter. The time has come for the College of Policing to withdraw the guidance that makes this malicious abuse possible.”

In February the High Court found in favour of Harry Miller in his case against Humberside Police after a similar incident; however, the court found that the College of Policing’s guidance did not breach his Article 10 rights to freedom of speech. Mr Miller and Fair Cop are appealing the latter judgement, with a date for the appeal expected imminently.

Harry Miller, co-founder of Fair Cop, said, “The police have recorded over 120,000 ‘hate incidents’ since the implementation of the guidance. These reports are not inconsequential as the police like to claim, since they show up on an enhanced DBS search.

“Last year the College of Policing announced a review of the old HCOG, under which Sarah’s thoughtcrimes were recorded. Sadly, the new version is every bit as bad as the old one; in some respects it’s even worse, as Sarah’s own analysis has shown. The College’s tinkering with the guidance only shows that this unelected, unaccountable body is unfit to write the rulebook for UK policing. We need to rip up HCOG and subject the College of Policing to the same degree of parliamentary scrutiny as other organisations that shape our laws and our society,” concluded Miller.

Sarah is crowdfunding to raise money for the case. Supporters can donate at: