New Hate Crimes to be Considered
The Law Commission has announced plans to consider a potential reform of criminal law to include additional protected characteristics under existing hate crime laws. The review could see crimes related to misogyny, misandry and ageism classified as hate crime.
In addition, crimes aimed at sub-cultures and those with alternative lifestyles, such as goths, could be included in new legal definitions of hate crime. The review by the Law Commission has been requested by the government as part of a “refreshed action plan” against hate crimes.
Announcing the consultation, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that a move for legislative reform of hate crimes would bolster the place of “British values of unity, tolerance and mutual respect” in the law. Other new measures include £1.5m additional funding for victims of hate crime and specialist training for police to improve call handlers’ responses.
In addition, the government will launch a national public awareness campaign to highlight hate crimes later this year, using the slogan: “It’s not just offensive, it’s an offence.”
Home Secretary “committed to stamping out” hate crime
The announcement of a review of the law and a funding injection come as reported instances of hate crime across England and Wales continue to rise.
Figures for 2017 underline a 17% increase in hate crimes recorded by the police, with a particular rise in hate crimes committed against people on the basis of their religious beliefs. In the majority of recorded hate crimes, Muslims and Jewish people were targeted.
Hate crimes are currently defined in law as criminal offences committed against someone because of their disability, transgender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. They are a form of aggravated offence, allowing prosecutors to apply for a higher sentencing order when convictions for a crime are made.
Whilst 83% of hate crimes prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2016-17 led to a conviction or guilty plea, a significant number of reported incidents are currently not being prosecuted. Statistics show that just 13% of hate crimes reported last year resulted in a charge or summons being brought. In 30% of cases, investigations were closed without a suspect being identified.
The Home Secretary says that his department is “committed to stamping this sickening behaviour out” by using legislative reform, awareness campaigns and increased funding and training to:
“tackle the root causes of prejudice and racism, support hate crime victims and ensure offenders face the full force of the law."
Rights groups welcome reform for tougher sentencing, more convictions
The move to reform has been welcomed by campaigners from a range of human rights groups,
Some say the inclusion of age as a protected characteristic may help to clamp down on crimes against the elderly by making it easier to bring perpetrators to criminal justice.
Campaigner and chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse Gary Fitzgerald welcomes a legal elevation of crimes against the elderly, stating:
“The UK now has an opportunity to join other countries including the US, Japan and Israel by making elder abuse a crime, with the sorts of punishments that the public expects.”
Charities estimate that over one million elderly people are targeted by physical, financial, psychological or sexual abuse in the UK every year, but report that only 0.3% of known cases currently result in criminal conviction.
If such offences were rendered hate crimes, the police would have to record them separately and sentencing would be less lenient than campaigners say it currently is. Women’s rights groups have similarly welcomed the proposal to include misogyny as a hate crime, as this could help to bring criminal justice for offences which are otherwise difficult to prosecute.
The government-backed calls for misogyny to be legally recognised as a hate crime earlier this year, after YouGov research indicated that a quarter of women and 52% of women aged 18-24 had been sexually harassed in public in the past five years.
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