The Crown Prosecution Service and police are strengthening their approach to tackling disability hate crime after a report last year showed prosecution numbers were worryingly low.
A conference this week heard the CPS was due to issue guidance on training lawyers to handle disability hate crime cases, while the Association of Chief Police Officers was releasing a hate crime manual for police forces later this year.
The conference was organised by Scope, the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council and Disability Now magazine, whose report last August, Getting away with murder, which found a lack of understanding among police, lawyers and judges of why disabled people are targeted.
It also found that in 2007-8, just 141 incidents with a disability element were successfully prosecuted compared to 6,689 racial incidents and 778 homophobic incidents, and that police routinely linked crimes to victims’ “vulnerability”.
A disability hate crime is one wholly or partly motivated by hostility to someone on the basis of their disability, and though not a specific offence, it must receive a tougher sentence.
Speaking at the conference, Anne Novis, of the UKDPC, said: “Better guidance is needed for officers to differentiate between crimes which are motivated by hostility and crimes which are motivated by vulnerability, as well as identifying where both are factors.”
Prosecutions on the up
Seamus Taylor, the director of equality and diversity at the CPS, told the conference that the number of prosecutions was starting to rise, and that it had “become sensitised to the identifying and recording of disability hate crime”.
Taylor added that the CPS was applying to the courts for special measures to help disabled witnesses and victims give evidence. These include being able to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link.
However, despite a specially trained team of lawyers handling disability hate crime cases, the director of operations for London’s CPS, Lesley Burton, said that only 40 cases were currently live across London. “In a city of eight million, that is lamentable,” she added.
Paul Giannasi, a police superintendent advising cross-departmental government agency the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, said that “massive under-reporting” of crime was rife among disabled groups.
The conference also heard that from April, the British Crime Survey will include disability hate crimes, and the Home Office’s hate crime strategy, originally due this month, would be published in March. The strategy will cover disability among a range of issues.