In trying to protect democracy, the Government should be careful not to water down further our most precious value: freedom of expression David Cameron has confirmed that the Queen’s Speech will containlegislation to tackle extremism and counter the radicalisation of young Muslims. These are laudable ambitions and necessary, given the apparent allure and reach of Islamist terror groups. However, laws do already exist to proscribe organisations and prosecute individuals who incite violence, though these are not enforced as regularly as many would like.
The police need to be more adept at infiltrating these subversive bodies to find evidence that could be used to prosecute extremists. The Americans seem to be far better at this than us, even managing to bring to justice“hate preachers”, such as Abu Hamza, who were allowed to operate freely in this country. Admittedly, there are difficulties with the nature of the surveillance evidence that is allowed in our courts; perhaps, then, it would be better to address this first before introducing new laws that may have unintended consequences.
No one pretends this is an easy issue. It is one that liberal democracies always struggle to answer. Understandably, many people are weary of the hand-wringers who say more needs to be done “to engage the Muslim community” as though such a thing had not already been tried. We are surely entitled nowadays to hear louder condemnation from within that community of those whose ideology foments division and distrust.
But, equally, in trying to promote British values of democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and acceptance of different faiths, the Government should be careful not to water down further our most precious value, freedom of expression. To that end, Mr Cameron should consider using the proposed British Bill of Rights to give specific constitutional protection to free speech, just as in America.