It is a real delight for me to be with you here today to reflect on various aspects of what we describe as hate crime, and a pleasure to see all of you here today. Hate crime is a subject that has long concerned me, both as a lawyer and a MP.
Since being appointed Solicitor General, I have made it one of my priorities, and dealing with the prosecution of these cases has been a particular focus of mine.
I welcome this symposium and the unfortunate timing of it due to the referendum result. Hate crime of any kind, directed against any person, community or religion has absolutely no place in our society.
The scenes and behaviour we have been witness to in recent weeks, including the desecration of places of worship and abuse hurled at people just because they are a member of an ethnic minority or because of their nationality or faith, are despicable and shameful.
Standing together against such hate crime and ensuring that it is stamped out, needs to be reiterated. People should not feel that they have to suffer in silence, but should have the courage to come forward and report.
These recent events are shocking, but sadly this is not a new phenomenon. In this country, we have some of the strongest legislation in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence, and bigotry.
This includes specific offences for racially and religiously aggravated activity and offences of stirring up hatred on the grounds of race, religion, and sexual orientation. It is imperative that these laws are rigorously enforced.
Hate crime has always been a priority for the Government. We set out our ambition in the Conservative Party manifesto at the last election and just last week we announced in Parliament our intention to publish a new Action Plan, which will come very soon.
The CPS has also today published their Hate Crime Report setting out their progress in prosecuting hate crime. And, it was good to hear the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) on the radio this morning talking about these issues.
What is hate crime?
There is sometimes confusion about whether we are talking about the right thing. The right starting point for this discussion is to ask, what is hate crime? Otherwise, we cannot be sure we are all talking about the same thing, or that we are catching all of the behaviours that need to be addressed and stamped out. It is good to go back to the definition of hate crime.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the CPS have agreed a common definition of hate crime which is:
any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.
Perception is an important aspect – we must overlook the prejudices and address these barriers.
Since the Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan was published in 2012, I am pleased to say that we have worked extensively with the police to improve our collective response to hate crime and to improve recording of hate crime, so that we now have a fuller picture of the scale of the problem.
Last September, I spoke at a joint police/ CPS event at the College of Policing, which brought together the operational leads within the Criminal Justice System that deal with hate crime.
The overall aim is to establish a joined-up approach between police forces, CPS areas and other agencies to investigating and prosecuting hate crime.
The event was valuable and helped us all to gain a collective understanding of the issues and requirements of the police and CPS needs for investigating and prosecuting these offences.
The College of Policing has now published a national strategy and operational guidance in this area to ensure that hate crime is dealt with effectively by each police force.
The CPS work with police colleagues to ensure hate crimes are identified and decisions on prosecutions are progressed expediently through the Criminal Justice System is essential to increase public confidence and maintain safety.
The police have a duty to ensure that the recording of religious hate crime now includes the faith of a victim, a measure which came into effect in April this year.
The CPS has a robust programme of work in response to all strands of hate crime, including updating all of its legal guidance over the next year. This supports their commitment to the Action Plan that will be launched shortly.
Crown Prosecution Service
Today the CPS publishes its eighth Hate Crime Report. The report provides information on the CPS performance in prosecuting the following crimes between April 2014 and March 2016: racist and religious hate crime; homophobic and transphobic hate crime; disability hate crime; stirring up hatred; and crimes against older people.
As part of my superintendence responsibility, I have taken a particular interest in the direction of travel. In 2015/16, the CPS completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions - the highest number of hate crime prosecutions ever.
This was a 41% increase in disability hate crime prosecutions compared to 2014/15; the highest ever proportion of sentence uplifts in racially and religiously aggravated crime cases; and the highest ever conviction rate in homophobic and transphobic prosecutions. The signs are encouraging, but there is still a way to go.
Disability Hate Crime
Let me talk about disability hate crime specifically for a moment. This is an area that my fellow panel colleague, Stephen Brookes, has worked in tirelessly.
We know that there is a very low reporting rate for these types of offences in particular. The statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales published in June 2016, showed that while there were thought to have been around 70,000 disability hate crimes, only 2,508 made it into the police statistics. That is an unacceptably low rate of recording, and we need to know where we are failing.
The belief that disabled people are vulnerable as individuals and as a group is a disabling attitude and can lead to actions and decisions that undermine people’s independence, safety and security. It is a fact that many disabled people do not consider themselves as vulnerable, but consider themselves to be vulnerable to the situation that they find themselves in.
Crucially, in the context of the criminal justice system - and I speak from my own experience here - this attitude can undermine their perceived credibility as witnesses and, therefore, their access to justice.
The CPS will shortly consult publicly in relation to a new policy statement on crimes against disabled people with a view to publication in the autumn of 2016. Once finalised, the policy statement will provide an essential framework for the consideration of all crimes against disabled people and will be used to further refresh the legal guidance on disability hate crime.
The statement will acknowledge that the effects of crimes against disabled people are damaging and wide ranging. Disabled people’s access to public spaces, security and justice is undermined and disabled people’s experience of safety can be destroyed.
Safety and security are fundamental human rights and the CPS is committed to providing an equal and effective service to all communities – no matter who they are or where they are from.
The statement is being developed following discussion with interested groups and community representatives who highlighted that the social model of disability means the prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion experienced by many disabled people is, and should not be, the inevitable result of impairments or medical conditions, but instead stems from various barriers experienced daily.
Barriers can be environmental (inaccessible buildings and services), attitudinal (stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice), and organisational (inflexible policies and practices).
Using the social model helps the CPS to understand, dismantle and reduce the effects of those barriers within our power and to improve the safety and security of disabled people. This includes robustly prosecuting cases of disability hate crime in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code).
We note with concern the recent rise of race and religiously motivated crimes since the referendum which has undoubtedly been worrying, particularly given the heightened tensions following domestic and international events.
The ability to identify and prosecute both religiously and racially aggravated offending remains of the utmost importance to the CPS. The CPS is determined to play its part in raising awareness in increasing confidence of communities to report these crimes.
But prior to the recent spike, there was much to be encouraged by in the performance of the criminal justice system. In 2015/16 the CPS recorded a total number of completed prosecutions as 13,032 - a rise of 1.9% from the previous year. Importantly, this also showed an increased conviction rate to 83.8% and an increase in the sentence uplift to 34.8%.
The CPS also continues to support the cross-Government working groups on anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitism. And it continues to ensure that all prosecutors are applying the correct policy guidance and are aware of the available support on identification and prosecution of racially and religiously aggravated crime.
The Government position on recent events
As to that recent spike - this Government remains committed to combating the harm caused by far and extreme right wing groups in our society. We are working to ensure that we understand fully the nature of the threat, and our Counter Extremism Strategy outlines the action that this Government is taking in response.
As we change Prime Minister, that commitment will not diminish. The incoming Prime Minister, having worked as the Home Secretary for the last 6 years is particularly well placed to tackle this issue.
I have always maintained that the best way to tackle hate crime is through effective implementation of strong legislation and through integrating communities successfully. The legal framework makes clear the seriousness with which it is treated.
It is imperative that hate crime legislation is rigorously enforced. We all have a key role to play in ensuring that we continue to work well with the communities directly affected by hate crime to ensure that we get this right, and not miss anything.
Police forces will respond robustly to any incidents and victims can be reassured that their concerns about hate crimes will be taken seriously by the police, the CPS and courts.
I understand that there are concerns and a sense of uncertainty following the result of the referendum. One of the things that we are most proud of in the UK is the rich co-existence of other faiths, cultures and ethnicities. This is something that we must fiercely protect.
So, what next?
Ultimately, we all work to see an end to hate crime in all forms for good. I mention the important work being done to improve victims’ confidence. This will need continuous improvement in the police and criminal justice response, including more support for victims.
We will provide a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and also offer additional funding to community organisations so they can tackle hate crime.
The Counter Extremism Strategy focuses on all forms of extremism including the promotion of hatred and division among communities. This again will contribute to and reinforce the Action Plan which will re-emphasise and build on the progress that has already been made.
I mention social media, as a growth area in terms of this type of activity. The particular increase in violence, fear and hatred, is an evolving crime environment that we need to monitor.
I know that the CPS is committed to supporting efforts to raise awareness and to increase the confidence of individuals to report hate crime across all communities. Guides describing what hate crime is and what to do about it, are being prepared. These short guides will help to inform individuals and advisers with a view ultimately, to increasing reporting.
The CPS will also issue new guidance to prosecutors on racially aggravated crime and has produced guidance for prosecutors covering how to recognise anti-Muslim hostility and anti-Semitism in the context of domestic and international extremism – which have been developed and issued with the active engagement of community based organisations.
And finally, we also need to think about how victims are increasingly affected by abuse that is perpetrated through the use of social media. Social media is an enormous force for good in our society. But it is wholly unacceptable that people are using it to spread hatred, and using violence and hate speech to rile up tensions.
So, to conclude - hate crime of any kind, directed against any community, race or religion has absolutely no place in our society. We remain responsive to the evolving hate crime environment. It is essential that we improve the expertise of our law enforcement and prosecutors in order to provide the highest quality service to combat this emerging threat.
I am always pleased to come together with people who have a passion for dealing with these crimes and am interested to hear your views. Forums such as this are significant, and we all have a pivotal part to play.
Let me finish by saying how honoured I am to be here, and let all of us who are here send a collective message - we must stand together against hate crime, and ensure that it is stamped out once and for all.