Hierarchy of hate crime is undermining confidence in the law

Published: 12 Oct 2016

A ‘hierarchy of hate crime’ is undermining the confidence of victims in the law, according to David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Unequal legal protections have created a two-tier system where race and religiously aggravated hate crime incidents can be prosecuted more harshly than other forms of hate crime, such as those motivated by disability, transgender status or sexual orientation.

The Commission is calling on government to launch a full-scale review of aggravated offences and sentencing provision. Hate crime remains significantly underreported, and victims are less likely than victims of other crimes to feel satisfied with police responses.

David Isaac said:

“Hate crime is an abhorrent blight upon society and we must do all we can to encourage victims to seek justice.

"To allow this to happen, people need full confidence in the law and to know those carrying out these dreadful acts will be punished. The current laws and sentencing have created a hierarchy of hate crime. This sends the message that some groups are more worthy of protection than others, and undermines confidence of victims in the law. That is why we are calling on government to undertake a full-scale review of aggravated offences and sentencing provision.”

Following the Brexit vote, police services across England and Wales noted a significant spike in hate crime reports. These have since fallen, but remain higher than before the referendum. The Commission has welcomed the government’s recently revised Action Plan on Hate Crime, in particular including efforts to work with schools and local communities, to improve the reporting process and to collect disaggregated data on recorded incidents.

However, there is much still to be done to ensure hate crime is dealt with consistently in England and Wales, including better sharing of knowledge and rigorously tested good practice, understanding root causes and having public authorities engage more proactively in tackling hate crime.

As part of its response to the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences, the Commission is calling on government to:

  • immediately launch a full-scale review of aggravated offences and sentencing provision in England and Wales
  • monitor use of the sentencing guidelines for hate crime in England and Wales to assess consistency of sentencing
  • ensure consistent data is collected across England and Wales, the criminal justice system and within individual agencies to allow comparative and chronological analysis
  • support evaluation by the police and related agencies of their reporting and recording processes, in consultation with people from local communities, and steps taken to simplify them
  • review reporting of hate crimes to third party organisations
  • ensure police refer all victims of hate crimes and incidents to relevant support services their impact and sustainability, highlight geographical and thematic gaps and ensure they are consistent with police recording systems
  • ensure that such services should be adequately funded, and that all victims should be told whether their case will be investigated and/or prosecuted, including regular updates on the progress of any investigation or prosecution
  • review relevant legislation to ensure offences effectively balance sanctions for hate speech with the right to freedom of expression in private electronic communications.

Notes to editors

  • Read the Commission’s written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on Hate Crime and its violent consequences.
  • Hate crime motivated by race and religion can be prosecuted under the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), while other forms of hate crime, such as those motivated by someone’s disability, transgender status or sexual orientation, can be prosecuted under the Criminal Justice Act
  • In Scotland, the Commission developed a major project to increase reporting rates of LGBTI hate crime in partnership with the Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland and the LGBT Consortium. 
  • The Commission also recently published a report on Crime against disabled people, which found that disabled adults in England and Wales experienced approximately 56,000 incidents of disability hate crime per year during the period 2011 to 2014. Half (52%) of disability hate crime incidents during the recorded period were reported to the police, while 6 in 10 people who had contact with the police following a disability hate crime incident said they were satisfied with police handling of the matter.

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