Skip to main content

It is sad to see that in this day and age, hate crimes are still being committed against people with disabilities. More worrying is the inconsistent way in which these crimes, and the people who commit them, are being handled. The Disability Hate Crime Network has recently written to a government minister about their concern over the huge discrepancies and inconsistencies in how the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crime prosecutions.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the network, says in his letter that he and his colleagues felt real concern that six recent court cases involving violent attacks on disabled people – reported by the Disability News Service (DNS) – had not been treated as disability hate crimes. Yet they were clearly committed against people with disabilities. Three of the six cases were murders; one resulted in the offender being jailed for manslaughter; two victims survived the violent assaults to which they were subjected.

In each of these cases, which all led to convictions, the offences involved violent, repeated assaults on a disabled person, but none of them saw an increase in the sentences handed to the offenders under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This Act imposes a duty on the court to increase sentences for offences motivated by disability-related hostility. So why was this not done?

The six cases suggest yet again – following many other dreadful offences reported by DNS over the last eight years – that there are still major flaws in the way the criminal justice system deals with disability hate crimes. It seems to be difficult to prove that an offence is a disability hate crime under current legislation.

There are also issues within the police force, with one being criticised for its alleged failings involving a young autistic man. He was held in a police cell for eight hours, after he had defended himself from a vicious disability hate crime in October 2015. He was only able to clear his name after a six-month ordeal which saw him dragged through the criminal justice system by the police and Crown Prosecution Service, before he was eventually cleared of assault charges by magistrates.

Stephen Brookes from the Disability Hate Crime Network says in his letter to the minister that the way the courts deal with disability hate crime is “still a mockery” and that – even if section 146 is mentioned by prosecutors – “too many of the judiciary just don’t get it, or don’t want the complication.”

He says that “where communities, disabled people, Crown Prosecution Service and police work together on training and implementation and have effective and closely monitored reporting processes, then results are good.”

But he says that the seven cases reported by the DNS “are enough to set alarm bells ringing, and that we do need to work together on a better and more cohesive approach by all parties to the reality of failing faith by disabled people that they will get anything near justice when victims of disability hate crime.” We await the response his letter!

Meanwhile, the Home Office is seeking applications for new funding from anti-hate crime groups in England and Wales. The Community Demonstration Project fund supports schemes working to prevent hate crime, improve support for victims and increase the reporting of hate crime. Projects can cover all forms of hate crime, including on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. About eight projects are expected to be funded through the second round of the £900,000 three-year scheme. If you have any suggestions for projects that need this funding, you can find more information here.

Join us at the IEDP’s autumn seminar is on hate crime on 30 October 2017. I am a Board adviser to the Institute of Equality and Diversity Professionals and it would be great to see you there.

Leave a Reply