The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published new public statements on how it will prosecute hate crime and support victims in England and Wales. Amid rising volumes of reports to the police service, the CPS has consulted community groups and criminal justice partners to produce revised statements covering the different strands of hate crime: racist and religious, disability and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic.
In addition to the public statements, the CPS has also published revised legal guidance that sets out how prosecutors should make charging decisions and handle these cases in court.
In recognition of the growth of hate crime perpetrated using social media, there’s a defined commitment to treat online crime as seriously as offline offences, while also taking into account the potential impact on the wider community as well as the victim.
For the first time, CPS policy will acknowledge that victims of biphobic hate crime have different experiences and needs to the victims of homophobic and transphobic offences.
The CPS recognises it has a responsibility to actively remove barriers to justice for disabled victims and witnesses, ensuring they receive the right support to enable them to give their best evidence.
The CPS is marking the publication of these new documents with the launch of a social media campaign entitled #HateCrimeMatters, which is designed to encourage people to come forward and report hate crime incidents.
The organisation is also publishing an online support guide specifically for disabled victims and witnesses of crime.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, explained: “Hate crime has a corrosive effect on our society and that’s precisely why it’s a priority area for the CPS. It can affect entire communities, forcing people to change their way of life and live in fear. These new documents take account of the current breadth and context of offending to provide prosecutors with the best possible chance of achieving justice for the victims of hate crime. They also let victims and witnesses know what they should expect from us as an organisation.”
Saunders concluded: “I very much hope that, along with the new campaign, the documents will give people the confidence to come forward and report hate crime in the full knowledge that they will be taken seriously and given the support they need.”
A hate crime is an offence whereby the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or shows hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
Commenting on the revised guidance from the CPS, Mishcon de Reya’s legal director Emma Woollcott told Risk UK: “This guidance is a big step in the right direction. Effective deterrence is crucially important in crimes that are so easy to commit, and which have devastating consequences on victims’ safety and well-being and, indeed, for society more generally. The greatest challenge, however, is to ensure proactive enforcement of the laws, and indeed of social media companies’ own policies against online abuse on the front line. There’s no point in having such guidance and standards in place if they’re not properly policed, and if essential data is lost due to slow and ineffective responses from social media platforms. Victims and their advisors must act quickly and persistently to ensure that the perpetrators of hate crime are identified and brought to justice.”
Latest hate crime figures covering period of 2017 UK terrorist attacks published
Following the terrorist attack on Westminster on 22 March, police forces provided weekly returns of recorded hate crime to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
Police recorded 234 hate crime incidents two days after the Westminster incident, with similar increases seen after the attack in Manchester (273) and at London Bridge (319). These spikes returned to average levels within days as communities across the country responded with widespread shows of support and unity. This pattern was not seen following the Finsbury Park attack with 223 hate crime incidents reported two days after and which remained on average lower than other attacks.
While these brief increases are to some extent driven by a response to the terrorist attacks, they should be understood in the context of hate crime which can be affected by external events (including the ongoing debates about the EU Referendum and high-profile attacks and events both in the UK and internationally such as widespread protests or military action). Levels of hate crime also typically fluctuate and tend to be higher during the summer and at weekends. It’s also likely that reporting is higher when there’s an increased visible police presence, as people can report these crimes directly to officers, which was the case in the days following the aforementioned attacks.
The NPCC’s Lead for Hate Crime, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said: “We know that terrorist attacks and other national and global events have the potential to trigger short-term spikes in hate crime. That being so, we’ve been carefully monitoring community tensions following recent horrific events. Reporting from police forces shows that levels of hate crime peaked in the wake of the attacks, but quickly subsided within a few days. This is in line with trends we’ve seen before, although obviously it’s still a real concern for the police service and wider society.”
Hamilton continued: “As terrorists seek to divide us, it’s more important than ever that we continue to stand united in the face of hostility and hatred. Police forces remain committed to helping all people feel safe and secure as they go about their daily lives. More officers have been deployed on visible patrols and forces continue to reach out to all communities to provide reassurance, strengthen our bonds and deal with tensions that may have been triggered. Across the country, we’ve seen people and communities reject these hateful divisions by defiantly celebrating our shared values and diversity and showing that we will not be intimidated by an intolerant minority.”