Government issues proposals to tackle disability hate crime

The government aims to tackle hate crimes against disabled people and other groups of vulnerable people more vigorously with a range of new laws and policy actions set out in its Hate Crime Action Plan, published yesterday.


The plan says the Crown Prosecution Service will publish a new policy on prosecuting cases involving victims and witnesses with learning disabilities and/or mental health needs by next month, with additional guidance on prosecuting disability hate crime to follow by December.


The latter will provide greater detail on the distinction between victims being targeted for their disability, as defined under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, or because of their vulnerability, both of which are aggravating factors in sentencing.


Few disability hate crime prosecutions


A report last year by Scope, Disability Now magazine and the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council found relatively few prosecutions were being brought under section 146, with disabled people often being treated as vulnerable.


Also by December, the Association of Chief Police Officers must publish a refreshed hate crime manual to include national minimum standards for investigation, and a full training needs analysis for police.


In addition, the government will consider changing schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which determines the minimum jail term possible under mandatory life sentences, to bring disability more in line with murders aggravated by race, religion or sexual orientation.


‘Lack of a full picture on disability hate crime’


The action plan admits the government “lacks a full picture of disability hate crime as it affects all disabled people”, but points to 2007’s Another Assault report by Mind, which found 71% of people with mental health needs had been subject to a disability hate crime at least once in the preceding two years.


Disability charities will also benefit from funding provided as part of the government’s plans. Voice UK, the Derby-based charity that works with people with learning disabilities who have suffered crime or abuse, will receive more than £50,000 from the Victims’ Fund.


Home Office minister Alan Campbell visited Age Concern Camden, which will receive £23,000 to help older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through its Opening Doors project.


Campbell said: “Hate crime ruins people’s lives and the government is determined to tackle it in all its forms. People should be free to express their identities without fear of harassment and crime simply because of who they are.”


Mencap warning over timescale


Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy, David Congdon, said the action plan “was saying all the right things” but warned that the timescale for delivery seemed too tight, leaving insufficient time to engage properly with charities and other stakeholders.


He said Mencap would monitor how the new CPS guidance on prosecuting disability hate crimes was implemented, saying in the past the service had been “reluctant to consider disability hatred when prosecuting crimes against people with a disability”.


Congdon also called for the policy and CPS to collect data specifically on crimes against people with a learning disability, to ensure the plan made a “real difference” to the client group.


Scope reaction


Ruth Scott, director of policy and campaigns at disability charity Scope, said: “While the government’s action plan contains some encouraging measures, we still have some concerns about data collection, notably that there is currently no set time committment for making the much needed improvements to IT systems across police forces.
“Without the right mechanisms in place to capture comprehensive national data on disability hate crime it will be difficult to build a clear picture of the problem and tackle it strategically.”


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