Under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression” in the UK. The law goes on to say that this freedom “may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society."
These may be “in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
A number of different UK laws outlaw hate speech. For example, section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 makes it an offence for a person to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviours that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”. This law also includes language that is deemed to incite “racial and religious hatred” as well as “hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation” and language that “encourages terrorism”.
In recent times, there has been a growing debate over whether the UK needs more hate speech laws. The Law Commission has consulted on proposed changes to hate crime laws in England. One of the proposals was to drop the 'dwelling defence' from the Public Order Act, however following a backlash from groups like CARE, the Commission decided against removing it. It is preparing to submit a 500-page review of existing laws and make suggestions for further changes.