Mr Justice Knowles made the remark on the first day of a landmark legal challenge against guidelines issued to police forces across the country on how to record "non-crime hate incidents". The College of Policing, the professional body which delivers training for all officers in England and Wales, issued their Hate Crime Operational Guidance (HCOG) in 2014, which states that a comment reported as hateful by a victim must be recorded “irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element”. Mr Justice Knowles expressed surprise at the rule, asking the court: “That doesn’t make sense to me. How can it be a hate incident if there is no evidence of the hate element?” He added: “We live in a pluralistic society where none of us have a right to be offended by something that they hear. “Freedom of expression laws are not there to protect statements such as ‘kittens are cute’ - but they are there to protect unpleasant things. “Its utility lies in exposing people to things that they do not want to hear.”
The case against the College is being brought by Harry Miller, a 53-year-old man from Lincoln, who claims that the HCOG is unlawful because it infringes on his right to freedom of expression. Mr Miller, a married father of four, was investigated by Humberside Police earlier this year after a Twitter user complained that he shared a "transphobic limerick". Even though no crime was committed, his sharing of the limerick online was recorded as a "hate incident" and he was described as a “suspect” in police reports, the court heard. Mr Miller, who was previously an officer for the Humberside force, accused the police of "creating a chilling atmosphere for those who would express a gender critical position".