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Hate Crime: Misogyny

Volume 808: debated on Monday 23 November 2020


Asked by

My Lords, any hate crime is completely unacceptable. The Government are committed to stamping them out. We have asked the Law Commission to conduct a wide-ranging review into hate crime to explore how to make current legislation more effective and whether additional protected characteristics should be added. It will report next year and we will respond to the review in full when it is complete.

The Home Office has the opportunity today to state clearly that unintended or apparent bullying is still bullying. A woman has been murdered every three days for the last 10 years, 62% of them by partners or former partners, yet there is no co-ordination among the authorities to build an accurate pattern of abuse. Making misogyny a hate crime will go some way to addressing this scandal in our society, but when, Minister, when?

The noble Baroness will know, because I have said it here before, that the Law Commission will report on its findings next year. She will also understand that equality of protection is a crucial element of ensuring public support for hate crime legislation.

My Lords, charities and campaign groups have raised concerns about closed online groups mobilising to incite hatred and violence against communities. The Government need to act now to protect ethnic, religious and LGBT+ communities living in fear. Will the Minister agree to provide an urgent Written Statement to your Lordships’ House at the beginning of January, after the end of the Law Commission review, on what plans the Government have to introduce hate crime legislation and protect those communities now from this insidious crime?

The noble Baroness will know that there are already numerous strands of hate crime legislation. After the Law Commission has reported, I fully expect that Parliament will be updated on its findings.

My Lords, I will make one brief point. My noble friend will have noticed the concession made by the Scottish Government on their hate crime Bill that one has to show intent to incite hatred. Will my noble friend keep this in mind when the Law Commission reports next year?

I thank my noble friend for that point. We will certainly keep all aspects of findings and law in mind when thinking about future plans.

My Lords, hate speech that results in criminal actions such as incitement to violence is to be both deplored and subject to legislation. That said, I am concerned that one of our most precious democratic freedoms—freedom of expression—might be hampered if this is widely applied to include any offensive or misogynistic speech. The distinction between unpleasant, even hateful, speech and criminal incitement is often determined by the context in which it occurs. Does the Minister agree that each hate speech incident should be considered on a case-by-case basis rather than by means of broad legal sanctions?

I certainly agree that freedom of speech is one of the most precious things we preserve in this country, but it comes with responsibility. Where freedom of speech is used as an excuse to inflict a hate crime on someone else, that line has been crossed.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend’s last answer. We are all against the hatred of women, but does my noble friend agree that we do not need to create more offences when there are already laws dealing with misogyny? Is it not already a crime, for example, to breach the peace, to threaten violence against a woman, physically to attack a woman, both sexually and non-sexually, and to incite violence against a woman? Where those crimes are aggravated by hatred of the victim or women generally, the court will take that into account when sentencing the defendant. If the evidence is there, we can and should prosecute. We do not need more offences.

We will keep an open mind until the Law Commission reports but my noble and learned friend is absolutely right in some of the things that he says. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, if we created a hate crime in relation to gender, we would have to think very carefully about whether it would apply to the entire population or just women. That is what the Law Commission is considering.

This week is White Ribbon Week. Despite much progress around support for victims of domestic abuse, Citizens UK has found that hate motivated by gender is already a factor in 33.5% of all existing hate crime. It is therefore no wonder that many people feel that the current legislation is outdated. Further to my noble friend Lady Primarolo’s question, may I press the Minister a little further? Will she commit to accepting the Law Commission’s final recommendations on this issue and to bringing legislation forward next year?

I do not know what those recommendations are yet but I can say to the noble Baroness that the Law Commission’s review will include how protected characteristics—including sex, gender and age—should be considered by new or existing hate crime law, as well as how legislation protects the existing protected characteristics.

My Lords, one of the problems in making sure that killers and abusers of women are prosecuted is the fact that the police often—that is, in the past and still now—do not take women seriously. Misogyny is clearly a problem in police forces. What is the Home Office doing about it?

The noble Baroness asks about domestic abuse, primarily, and misogynistically motivated crimes against women. In recent years, training for front-line police responders has been improved significantly, so what might have been seen as a domestic 20 years ago is now taken extremely seriously and the appropriate action is taken.

Following on from the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in 2016, Nottinghamshire Police introduced its misogyny hate crime policy, which enables women and girls to report cases of abuse and harassment as misogyny and for them to be recorded as such. Four other police forces have followed its excellent example. Will the Minister ensure that a similar policy is adopted nationwide, at least to assist with the collection of data for the Law Commission in the preparation of its report, promised for the coming year?

I was aware of Nottinghamshire and other police forces doing that. I welcome police forces across the country disaggregating hate crime into, say, anti-Semitic hate crime, Islamophobic hate crime or, as the noble Lord said, misogyny. The data that they produce is very helpful but, again, I hesitate to say anything further until the Law Commission has reported.

Reflecting on an earlier answer from the Minister, I would point out that a French author has published a book called I Hate Men. Far from being condemned, it has received widespread and pretty favourable coverage. The Law Commission’s work shows that this is a very complex area. Research has even thrown doubt on the deterrent effect of sentences aggravated by hate crime. So, should we not wait, even if it takes another year, for the outcome of the Law Commission’s consultation before rushing to create a specific offence?

I thank the noble Baroness for pointing out the complexity of this area. The consultation will finish on 24 December and the Law Commission will report next year. I agree with her that we should not pre-empt the outcome of the review just yet.

My Lords, non-fatal strangulation is often part of the pattern of abuse leading up to attempts on women’s lives. Can the Minister say whether an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill—shortly to be debated in this House— to include a new offence of non-fatal strangulation would be welcomed by the Government?

I am aware that such an amendment may come forward to your Lordships’ House; the debate on it will be very interesting and thoughtful, as debates on such amendments always are. I look forward to discussing it with the noble Baroness before the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to your Lordships’ House.