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Homophobic Hate Crime

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take in response to the BBC investigation of homophobic hate crimes.

My Lords, the Government take seriously all forms of hate crime, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime, as highlighted by the recent BBC report. The Government recently published the LGBT Action Plan and a refresh of the 2016 hate crime action plan, in which we committed to measures including a public awareness campaign, improved police training, and reviewing the adequacy of current hate crime legislation.

I thank the Minister for that reply. She will be aware that hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are not considered to be aggravated offences, which means that they carry a lower maximum sentence than other hate crimes committed on the basis of either race or faith. This sends an extremely hurtful and damaging message that anti-LGBT attacks are less serious than those based on other factors. The Government committed to address this in their 2017 manifesto, so when and how will they bring forward legislation to end this form of judicial discrimination?

My Lords, in fact, local police forces can disaggregate gender identity hate crime if they wish to do so; it is entirely up to local forces. Of course, when a case gets brought to court, the sentence given is entirely up to the court, depending on the severity of the crime.

Roughly how large a proportion of these offences, having been recorded by the police, result in charges? If the proportion is low, what can be done to increase it?

My noble friend raises a valid point. The police and the CPS are looking into whether the charge rates differ from the reporting rates.

My Lords, fewer homophobic and other crimes based on gender identity are being solved. Does the Minister agree that anonymous social media accounts are playing an increasing role in this type of crime, and does she think that that could be one of the reasons why fewer crimes are being solved? If she does, what is she doing about it?

The noble Lord raises one of the most important things: a trend in hate crime that we are seeing is the perceived anonymity of online hate crime. Particularly for children who are bullied, which the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, was about, that is carried with them all day because they bring their phones home, and that can produce some dark thoughts in their minds. The online harms White Paper is due shortly, and I very much look forward to working with the noble Lord on the legislation.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why 23% of recorded homophobic hate crimes resulted in a charge in 2014, but only 13% resulted in a charge in 2017? What impact does the Minister think these statistics will have on the confidence of the perpetrators of homophobic hate crime and the fear felt by victims?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, the noble Lord raises an important question. In general, the changes in the charge rates are likely to be the result of improved crime recording by the police, and of forces taking on more complex crimes, such as sexual offences, which of course take longer. We welcome the fact that more victims are coming forward and reporting crimes to the police. However, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, the CPS and the police are working together to look at this disparity.

My Lords, do the Government have any plans to extend the criminal law to cover people with disabilities, particularly online?

The noble Lord raises another trend of hate crime online—that meted out against people with disabilities—which is particularly cruel. I have met with disability groups, such as Changing Faces, which noble Lords may have seen in the Telegraph campaign over Christmas. All the efforts we are making with regard to the online harms White Paper and the subsequent legislation will address that cohort of people as well.

In her opening Answer, the Minister mentioned several categories of hate crime. When will misogyny be included as a hate crime?

As the noble Baroness will know, we commissioned the Law Commission to look into other types of hate crime to see whether there are current gaps in the law, and we expect it to report back in the next 12 to 18 months. That will include things such as misogyny.

My Lords, the Minister answered very well a question I did not quite put. My question was about it not being an aggravated crime. That takes legislation so that a different maximum sentence can be laid. In the 2017 manifesto, the Conservatives committed to making it an aggravated crime, so when and how will legislation be brought forward?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that those types of hate crime do not constitute aggravated offences. There are other types of hate crime that do not carry the aggravated uplift either. I said that the courts can pass the sentence that fits the severity of the crime that has been meted out.

My Lords, that was a hugely interesting answer but, again, it was not to the question. Could the Minister possibly answer my noble friend’s question?

My Lords, there are certain aggravated offences in the hate crime area. We absolutely accept that the things the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, was talking about are hate crimes, but they do not currently carry the aggravated offence.

My Lords, there was a commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto to make homophobic hate crime an aggravated offence. Are the Government going to fulfil the promise they made in their manifesto or not?