Imagine a time where you could face legal consequences for hurting someone else's feelings. We're not citing an excerpt about the "Thought Police" from the George Orwell novel 1984. It's what the so-called "Twitter Police" have actually been doing in England.
A former police officer from Lincolnshire was charged with a hate incident over alleged transphobic tweets he wrote in 2019. It took a two-year-long legal battle, but he's finally just been vindicated.
Harry Miller's tweets had offended an anonymous member of the transgender community and so he was reported to law enforcement. The Humberside Police followed up on the complaint which was classified as "offensive" and "transphobic."
Miller, along with attorneys at Christian Concern, took legal action against the police and the College of Policing's guidance. According to the guidance, a hate incident can be any non-crime incident that is "perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice."
During an interview with Christian Concern, Miller explained that when police came to question him about the tweets, an officer told him, "I'm here to check your thinking."
"After I got over the shock of there being a thing called the 'Twitter police'," he recalls, he then told officers, "You've got to be kidding me."
Miller was so surprised he told the officers about Orwell's groundbreaking novel 1984, advising them to "look it up, that 1984 was a dystopian novel, not a police 'how-to manual'."
He also argued that offensiveness toward someone is not a crime, "only when speech turns to malicious communication or targeted harassment against an individual should it be a problem."
Miller's lawyers told the Court of Appeal that the current police guidance unlawfully violates citizens' right to speak freely.
Dame Victoria Sharp agreed, ruling that, "The recording of non-crime hate incidents is plainly an interference with freedom of expression and knowledge that such matters are being recorded and stored in a police database is likely to have a serious 'chilling effect' on public debate."
Christian Concern says the Court's decision will hopefully lead the College of Policing to update its guidance on the recording of non-crime hate incidents, so it doesn't interfere with freedom of expression.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, said, "We welcome this judgment and are grateful for the judges' recognition of the importance of freedom of expression. For too long, non-crime hate incidents have been weaponised against people who've spoken truthfully about sexuality and gender in particular."
Miller has co-founded a group called Fair Cop which works with the College of Policing, police forces, and other authorities with the goal of improving the guidelines.