LONDON, Jan. 23 (JTA) The British government has rejected plans to make Holocaust denial a criminal offense, the country’s home office minister told Parliament last week.
Mike O’Brien said such legislation, which had been supported by Prime Minister Tony Blair, could not easily “strike a balance between outlawing such offensive statements while ensuring that freedom of speech is not unduly restricted.”
“Therefore, while the government is following carefully the current debates on this issue within the Jewish community and elsewhere, we have no immediate plan to introduce legislation.”
The announcement came during a trial involving Holocaust revisionist David Irving, who is suing U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court for labeling him a Holocaust denier.
Holocaust denial is an offense in several European countries, including Germany, Austria and Lithuania.
In Britain, it is an offense under the 1986 Public Order Act to incite racial hatred, but Jewish groups say that the law has proved ineffective and has provoked very few prosecutions.
While material denying the Holocaust might be considered offensive and untruthful, prosecutors say it is difficult to define incitement.
The decision not to legislate against Holocaust denial came just one week before the British government is expected to announce plans to institute an annual Holocaust memorial day on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, beginning in 2001.
The formal announcement was expected to be made by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on Wednesday at an international Holocaust conference in Sweden.
The liberation of Auschwitz is already marked on Jan. 27 each year in Germany and Sweden. The European Union also marks genocide remembrance day on that date.