Ex-cop's 'transphobic' tweets deemed lawful after High Court battleby Richard Hartley-Parkinson
A former police officer who was contacted by fellow cops over a series of tweets has won a High Court battle.
Harry Miller, 54, posted allegedly transphobic tweets referring to transgender women as stupid and referred to synthetic hormones. Humberside Police received a complaint and was told that his tweeting was being recorded as a ‘hate incident’ under the College of Policing’s guidance.
However, Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, argued that the guidance had ‘a real and substantial chilling effect’ on freedom of expression. The guidance defines a hate incident 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’.
The incident prompted Mr Miller to found the campaign group Fair Cop, which raises concerns about what it says are police attempts to criminalise people for expressing opinions that do not contravene any laws.
In a ruling on Friday, the High Court in London found Humberside Police’s actions were a ‘disproportionate interference’ with Mr Miller’s right to freedom of expression.
But Mr Justice Julian Knowles rejected a wider challenge to the lawfulness of the College of Police guidance, ruling that it ‘serves legitimate purposes and is not disproportionate’.
The judge said: ‘The claimants’ tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.
‘I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant’s place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.’
At a hearing in November, Mr Miller’s barrister Ian Wise QC said his client was ‘deeply concerned’ about proposed reforms to the law on gender recognition and had used Twitter to ‘engage in debate about transgender issues’.
He argued that Humberside Police, following the College of Policing’s guidance, had sought to ‘dissuade him (Mr Miller) from expressing himself on such issues in the future’, which he said was ‘contrary to his fundamental right to freedom of expression’.
The judge said Mr Miller strongly denies being prejudiced against transgender people, and regards himself as taking part in the ‘ongoing debate’ about reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which the Government consulted on in 2018.
The judge added that the effect of the police turning up at Mr Miller’s place of work ‘because of his political opinions must not be underestimated’.
He continued: ‘To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.’
In his judgment, Mr Justice Julian Knowles stated: ‘I conclude that the police left the claimant with the clear belief that he was being warned by them to desist from posting further tweets on transgender matters even if they did not directly warn him in terms.
‘In other words, I conclude that the police’s actions led him, reasonably, to believe that he was being warned not to exercise his right to freedom of expression about transgender issues on pain of potential criminal prosecution.’
Rejecting Mr Miller’s challenge to the College of Police guidance itself, the judge said he was ‘satisfied that the aims and objectives of (the guidance) justify the limitation it imposes on freedom of speech’.
Mr Justice Knowles said the guidance pursued ‘extremely important’ aims, including ‘preventing, or taking steps to counter, hate crime and hate incidents’ and preventing ‘the escalation of hate-based hostility from low-level non-criminal activity to criminal activity’.