The Times view on Harry Miller, Twitter and the trans debate: Thought Police 15.12.20

The original article is here.

No one in a free society expects to receive a visit from the police for expressing a political opinion. Yet this is what happened to Harry Miller after he was reported to Humberside police for supposedly transphobic tweets. Among his offending tweets were a limerick that he had “liked” and a tweet that he had posted reading: “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.” Police recorded Mr Miller’s tweets as a “non-crime hate incident”, visited his place of work and gave him the impression that he could be prosecuted if he continued to tweet. Yesterday the High Court ruled that the force had disproportionately interfered with Mr Miller’s freedom of expression. In so doing it has struck an important blow for free speech.

There is no question that trans people, who undoubtedly face much discrimination, are entitled to protection. No group should be subjected to harassment or prejudice. Nonetheless, those fighting for trans rights should not be allowed to trample on the cherished freedoms of others. These must include the right to talk about social and political issues in a way that does not break the law. As the judge in Mr Miller’s case, Mr Justice Julian Knowles, put it: “In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.” It is to be hoped that yesterday’s ruling will help to keep it that way. It is vital that the police and other institutions are not driven by the often powerful pro-transgender movement into eroding freedom of expression.

The police have too often fallen short in this regard. In October Thames Valley police issued an appeal for witnesses over “public offences” in Oxford. The offences in question? Stickers bearing the legend “Woman: noun. Adult human female” and “Women don’t have penises”. That same month a Cheshire police officer released a video promoting the importance of using the correct pronouns and saying that misgendering someone can be a form of abuse. Last February a 74-year-old woman was woken by a telephone call from Suffolk police over tweets she had written such as “Gender is BS. Pass it on.” They did not accuse her of any crime but asked her to tone down her webposts and tweets on the issue. It is clearly not the job of the police to control lawful expressions of opinion. Neither should it be possible for those on one side of a debate to instigate police action against those on the other simply for not agreeing with them. Clearly, that would have a chilling effect on free debate.

The police are not the only institution that should reconsider its stance on the matter. Another is the judicial system. In December an employment tribunal ruled against a researcher, Maya Forstater, who lost her job after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex. The NHS is likewise in danger of pandering to the trans lobby. Today The Times reports that three NHS trusts have endorsed a guide for treating transgender patients that approves of the use of controversial drugs to postpone puberty. It also says that anatomy “is not always a good guide” to a child’s gender or even sex. That is the view of some trans activists but not of many others.

State-funded organisations serve everyone, which means not taking the side of certain activist groups. The trans debate only illustrates the need for that basic principle. Those deemed to hold the “wrong” opinions have at times found themselves the subjects of Twitter mobs, smear campaigns and efforts to oust them from their jobs. Employers, fearful of reputational damage, have sometimes capitulated. It is then all the more necessary that institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the NHS stand for higher principles. That must include the right to freedom of expression, from which so many other freedoms flow.