Memory, Hate, and the Criminalization
of Bias-Motivated Violence:
Lessons from Great Britain
FREDERICK M. LAWRENCE*
Martha Minow reminds us that bias crimes exist within a context and within a culture.1 Similarly, a polity’s bias crime law reveals context and provides insights into the society’s self-understanding. The past several years have witnessed developments in the treatment of bias-motivated violence under British law that are extraordinary both in their depth and their sheer velocity. This paper sketches the background of British bias crime law, along with the case for understanding recent developments as an instance of dramatic legal change. I also offer some tentative observations as to the reasons for these changes, and the implications of these observations for using bias crime law as a window into a society’s selfperception as a multicultural society.
Before doing so, this paper first outlines a framework for understanding bias crimes, using the American context as a point of departure, and addresses several of the challenges that Professor Minow has set for those who argue in support of bias crime legislation. I will not take up the challenges raised concerning the regulation of hate speech with which I generally agree. As I have argued elsewhere, I believe that bias crimes can and indeed must be distinguished from hate speech. The latter, however despicable, is entitled to constitutional protection; the former, however “expressive,” is deserving of enhanced punishment.2 I will, however, take up two interrelated challenges that Professor Minow presents. They are the overarching foundational challenges that any bias
*© 2001 by Frederick M. Lawrence. This paper, based on a talk given at the Gilbane
Symposium at Brown University, November 19, 1999, is part of larger project concerning
bias-motivated violence in Great Britain. That project has been supported in part by a grant
from the Ford Foundation. My thanks to Rosanne Felicello and Kenneth Westhassel for
their assistance in the preparation of this paper.