Hate speech 'a pretty difficult thing to prove', lawyer says

A barrister specialising in media law says he's not convinced the proposed laws for hate speech will do the job the Government wants it to do.

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Barrister Steven Price told Q+A there are many issues with the proposed hate speech laws and it could create more problems than it fixes. Source: Q+A

Steven Price told Q+A the Government is trying to solve a genuine problem with hate speech, especially online, correlating with hate crimes.

However he’s not convinced the proposed laws will do the job.

“There's going to be a tension between a law that has the possibility of actually capturing hate speech that is harmful and doing some good, which will have to be somewhat flexible, and a law that is precisely defined as closely as we can.

"That's going to exclude some situations that are that we might actually really want to punish.”

Public feedback closes on Friday for what the Government describes as proposals to "strengthen protections against speech that incites hatred and discrimination; and seeking New Zealanders’ views about how they would make Aotearoa New Zealand more socially cohesive".

Read more here
Feedback sought on sweeping hate speech proposals

Price told Q+A host Jack Tame that what we know of the “hate speech” law so far has three elements to it.

“It’s got to be aimed at a minority group and the Government's asking which minority groups we should have.

"At the moment, it's about race. Royal Commission said silly to exclude religion, and surely they're right about that. There's then debate about whether we should have age and disability and sexual orientation and gender issues as well in there.

“It's also got to be threatening or insulting or abusive language. And then it's also got to be, you've got to show, in order to prove that there's a crime, that the person intended to incite hatred. That's a pretty difficult thing to prove.”

Ge warns that, internationally, such laws have been used against the very groups that those laws were designed to protect.

“Hate speech laws are often used to prosecute the very minorities that it is designed to protect.

"So the people who are getting prosecutions against them in countries like France and other European countries where they have hate speech laws are Muslim imams and sometimes gay people who are attacking religions for attacking them.

"Because it's hard when you are critiquing religion, not to have that critique reflect on the adherents of the religion. So it's possible that this hate speech law will end up doing more harm than good, even if it's well designed.”

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Reporter Whena Owen asked a range of Kiwis about their experiences of hate speech and how they would define it. Source: Q+A

He says New Zealand can progress its society by being a more welcoming and inclusive place and this can happen outside of the courts.

“I feel like the country has not yet got to a place where we can say, well, look, we need to understand from the communities who are suffering from these harms, what these harms are, what the evidence of it is, so that we can then go, what is the best solution to that?

"My hunch is it's probably not the criminal law.”