Hate crime – should aggravated and stirring up hatred offences be extended?

The Government has asked the Law Commission to consider whether two existing groups of offences dealing with hate crime should be extended.

At present various crimes (such as assault or criminal damage) are prosecuted as aggravated offences with higher sentences if the offender demonstrates hostility or is motivated by racial or religious hostility at the time of the offence.

The Law Commission is to examine whether the same approach should apply if the offender shows hostility or is motivated on grounds of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The criminal law also provides protection against those who publish material that is intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.

The Commission is to examine whether those offences should also apply to people who act in order to stir up hatred on the grounds of disability or gender identity.

A crime is recorded as a hate crime if the victim or anyone else believes it to have been motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic.

The criminal justice agencies monitor hate crimes related to five main characteristics – disability, gender identity, race, religion and sexual orientation – but not all the existing legislation that protects victims from such crimes covers all five.

The Public Order Act 1986 makes it an offence to intentionally to stir up hatred on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation, and the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 creates racially and religiously aggravated offences.

The Commission’s review will ask whether these two pieces of legislation should be reformed to extend protection to all five groups and, if so, how it should be changed.

The review will be led by Professor David Ormerod, Law Commissioner for criminal law. Professor Ormerod said: “Hate crime can be devastating for its victims, and it can divide communities. We welcome this request from Government to examine the case for extending the protection of existing hate crime legislation to anyone who suffers abuse because of their disability, gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation”.

The Commission aims to report to Government in spring 2014.

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