The Law

Fair Cop was founded to challenge illegal interference by the police, politicians and others who are in breach of the UK’s human rights laws.

The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), enshrining the following fundamental rights into UK law:

  • Article 8: The right to private and family life without interference by a public authority
  • Article 9: The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Article 10: The right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers
  • Article 11: The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others

Read more about these Articles within the European Convention on Human Rights.

The recent cases of police warnings and cautions for non-criminal messages posted on social media, as detailed on our case study page, reflect a fundamental conflict between the provisions of the ECHR and the College of Policing’s Hate Crime Guidance.

In Chapter 1 of the 2014 version of the Hate Crime Guidance, a ‘Hate Incident’ is described as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”. (emphasis in original)

While the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 ECHR is a qualified right, that right nevertheless has to be practical and effective. Given the fundamental nature of the right of freedom of expression the exceptions found in paragraph 2 of Article 10 “must [be] construed strictly, and the need for any restrictions must be established convincingly”, see e.g. MariyaAlenkhina and others v Russia (38004/12), judgment delivered 3 December 2018.

As the European Court of Human Rights held in a judgment delivered on 15 April 2019 in Matasaru v Moldova (69714/16 and 71685/16):

…freedom of expression, as secured in paragraph 1 of Article 10 of the Convention, constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, indeed one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the self-fulfilment of the individual. Subject to paragraph 2, it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any section of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society”.” (emphasis added)

Fair Cop contends that there is a fundamental conflict between the College of Police’s Hate Crime Guidelines and Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the ECHR. We are committed to working with the College of Policing, police forces, police & crime commissioners and all other relevant authorities to improve the existing guidelines, ensuring that they recognise citizens’ freedom of expression while continuing to provide robust protection against real crimes that are truly motivated by hatred.

In the meantime, Fair Cop urges police chiefs and commissioners to refresh their memory regarding the ECHR and remind individual officers — whose job it is to protect these rights for all of us — that people have a legal right to express themselves in speech and writing, in life and online.