Law Commission report on hate crime: should the current offences be extended?

The Law Commission’s consultation on hate crime ran from 27 June to 27 September 2013. The final report of the consultation, Hate Crime: should the current offences be extended?, was published on 28 May 2014.

This project was a reference from the Ministry of Justice The Law Commission was asked to look into:

(a) extending the aggravated offences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to include where hostility is demonstrated towards people on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity;

(b) the case for extending the stirring up of hatred offences under the Public Order Act 1986 to include stirring up of hatred on the grounds of disability or transgender identity.

As regards the aggravated offences, the Commission’s extensive consultation revealed strong support for their extension. However, it also heard serious concerns that the existing offences are unnecessarily complex and may not be working as well as they should be; and, furthermore, that they may require amendment in order to address hate crime as it is experienced by disabled, LGB and transgender people. As a result, the Commission is recommending that a review should be conducted to ask a wider set of questions than those addressed in this project, such as:

  • how the criminal justice system might best provide protection for victims of hate crime?
  • which characteristics should be protected by specific criminal offences?
  • how should such characteristics be identified?

A comprehensive review of this nature would require Government support and resources. If there is no Government support for such a review, the Commission recommends, as an alternative but less satisfactory solution, that the aggravated offences should be extended to disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Although the Commission considers there would be a case in principle for extending the offences of stirring up hatred, it has not been persuaded of the practical need to do so. New offences would rarely, if ever, be prosecuted, and might also inhibit discussion of disability and transgender issues and of social attitudes to such issues. The Commission therefore recommends against the extension of these offences.

The Commission also recommends two reforms which it believes will help the system of enhanced sentencing achieve its full potential:

(1) New guidance from the Sentencing Council on the sentencing approach in hate crime cases; and

(2) Every time enhanced sentencing is applied, this should be recorded on the offender’s criminal record in the Police National Computer (PNC) so that the record will show the offence was aggravated by hostility, just as it would show a conviction for an aggravated offence.

The Equality and Diversity Forum responded to the consultation in September 2013.