November 02, 2023
Israel-Hamas conflict: Increased police presence in UK schools risks discouraging children’s lawful, peaceful speech
London’s Metropolitan police force has said it will increase its intelligence-gathering activities at schools in response to increased discussions and activism regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. The Met has instructed officers to increase visible patrols in schools while engaging with staff to obtain information about ‘community tensions’. The stated purpose of this increase in police activities is ‘keeping young people safe, improving trust and confidence in the police and deterring them from criminal activity’. However, it is not clear how, and for what exact purpose, the police will use any information they gather from children, teachers or administrators.
RSI is concerned that these increased policing activities may violate the UK’s obligations to protect the freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Under the ECHR, the UK is allowed to restrict free expression to the extent necessary to achieve certain goals that are legitimate in a democratic society, such as protecting public safety or preventing crime – if Parliament has passed a law permitting the restrictions. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UK is also required to ban ‘propaganda for war’ and ‘any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’.
However, we are concerned that the increased surveillance of pupils’ expression at school, and the threat of criminal punishment, may have a ‘chilling effect’ – discouraging young people from engaging in peaceful, lawful discussions and debates. If UK police monitor and discourage free speech in a way that is too broad or based on vague criteria, young people may censor themselves from saying things they have a right to say. This could violate the ECHR.
The ’chilling effect’ under the European Convention on Human Rights
Our concerns about police information-gathering in schools and the chilling effect
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