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Hate crime

Published Tuesday, January 14, 2020

This briefing looks at the law on hate crime in England and Wales.

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What is hate crime?

The police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have adopted the following central definition of hate crime:

“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person's disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity or perceived transgender identity.”

The five personal characteristics set out in the definition – race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender status – are the only centrally monitored strands of hate crime.

Criminal offences motivated by other characteristics - such as sex, age or appearance - can also be treated as hate crimes, but are not centrally monitored as such. Some police forces have developed localised recording practices for monitoring such crimes.

The criminal law

There is no single piece of legislation criminalising hate crime in England and Wales. Instead, there are three different ways in which the law deals with hate crime:

  • aggravated forms of certain “basic” offences – such as assault or criminal damage – that were motivated by hatred on the grounds of race or religion
  • enhanced sentences for offenders who were motivated by hatred on the grounds of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender status
  • offences of stirring up hatred based on race, religion or sexual orientation

Detailed guidance on this legislation and sentencing practice is available via the central Hate Crime page of the CPS website.

Policing policy on investigating hate crime is set out in the College of Policing publications National Policing Hate Crime Strategy and College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance.

The Government’s Action Plan

In July 2016 the Government published a four year Hate Crime Action Plan, which set out a programme of activity running to May 2020. The Action Plan was based on five key areas:

  • Preventing hate crime by challenging the beliefs and attitudes that can underlie such crimes.
  • Responding to hate crime in communities with the aim of reducing the number of hate crime incidents.
  • Increasing the reporting of hate crime.
  • Improving support for the victims of hate crime.
  • Building understanding of hate crime through improved data.

In 2018 the Government published a progress update, together with a “refresh” of the action plan and a thematic review of evidence on hate crime.

Actions set out in the 2016 plan included working with schools and community partners on educational projects for young people, a new funding scheme for community projects that respond to hate crime, a new funding scheme for security measures at vulnerable faith institutions, publishing CPS guidance for the public on what hate crime is and how to report it, and refreshing CPS guidance for prosecutors on hate crime prosecutions.

The Law Commission’s review

In 2013 the Law Commission launched a consultation on hate crime legislation, after the project was referred to it by the Ministry of Justice. The Law Commission’s terms of reference were to examine:

  • whether the stirring up hatred offences in the 1986 Act should be extended to cover disability and transgender identity hate crime; and
  • whether the aggravated offences set out in the 1998 Act should be extended to cover disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity hate crime.

The Law Commission also examined the effectiveness of the enhanced sentencing regime, which covers all five characteristics.

In its final report, published in 2014, the Law Commission recommended that the Government and criminal justice agencies should conduct a full scale review of existing hate crime legislation:

Such a review should examine all the available data to establish whether such offences and sentencing provisions should be retained, amended, extended or repealed, what characteristics need to be protected, and the basis on which characteristics should be selected.

In October 2018, the Government asked the Law Commission to proceed with such a review. The Law Commission launched its review in March 2019 with the publication of Hate Crime: Background to Our Review.  The Law Commission’s hate crime project page states that a full consultation paper will be published in early 2020.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8791

Author: Sally Lipscombe

Topics: Crimes of violence, Criminal law, Public order offences

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