6. Provisions on offences related to religions
49. Under the common law in England and Wales it is a strict liability offence to utter or publish blasphemous words and writings, but the scope of that offence has been narrowed in the last 150 years. The last conviction in England and Wales for blasphemous libel was upheld in 1979. However, the British Board of Film Classification in 1989 refused to issue a video classification certificate to a short film on the grounds that it infringed the law of blasphemy. Following the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, the Divisional Court confirmed in 1991 that the offence of blasphemy remained confined to protect only the Christian religion as exemplified by the established Church of England. In April 2007, the High Court allowed a legal challenge brought by a Christian group against a magistrate’s decision not to issue a private prosecution for blasphemy over the musical Jerry Springer - The Opera which was also broadcast on television. However, on 5 December 2007 the High Court found that criminal prosecutions for blasphemy should not be permitted in relation to broadcasts and live theatrical productions.
50. In Scotland, the last reported prosecution for blasphemy was in 1843 and it has been argued that blasphemy may no longer be a crime in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, which inherited the blasphemy offence of Irish common law, there has to date been no prosecution for blasphemy.
51. In recent years, there have been debates both in Parliament and in society at large whether the existing religious offences should be amended or abolished. As alternative options to the current common laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel it has been suggested to either replace them with a new statute protecting all religious faiths and beliefs or to repeal them withoutreplacement. However, a suggested statutory amendment to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which would have abolished the blasphemy offence, was rejected by the House of Lords in November 2005.