Reforms to protect disabled people from hate crime

December 8, 2021

The Law Commission announced recommendations to reform hate crime legislation on 7th December. Reforms would ensure disabled and LGBT+ victims of hate crime receive the same protection as those targeted because of their race and religion.

If enacted, the reforms would ensure all five characteristics are protected equally by the law.

Dimensions has long argued through the charity’s #ImWithSam campaign, that the current law on hate crime against disabled people is not working well and this is one of the reasons that prosecution and conviction rates are very low.

Online disability hate crime soared by more than 50% across England and Wales during 2020/21. This latest police data, gathered by leading disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response for this years' Hate Crime Awareness Week, shows a huge spike during a period when much of the population was forced to stay at home during national and regional lockdowns.

While there were more than 9,200 individual cases reported to police across England and Wales in 2020/21, equating to around 25 disability hate crimes a day, just 1% of cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or charged. Given these outcomes, it is perhaps little wonder that repeat offender rates for disability hate crime are up by 89% on the previous years.

Dr Mark Brookes MBE, Advocacy Lead at Dimensions UK, said, ‘We welcome this first important step towards parity of hate crime against people with disabilities and those on the grounds of race or religion but there’s still important work to be done in recognising and measuring learning disability hate crime separately from other hate crimes.’

Dimensions UK said, ‘We welcome the Law Commission report, which reflects recommendations we have made for changes to hate crime legislation in the interests of people with learning disabilities.’

Dimensions said there are several problems with hate crime legislation which the Law Commission addresses in this report:

  • Lack of parity – race and religious hate crime have different laws that apply and this influences the way criminal justice agencies think about hate crime. The commission recommends that disabled and LGBT+ victims receive the same protections as victims with other protected characteristics (race and religion). If enacted, the reforms would ensure all five characteristics are protected equally by the law.
  • Inappropriately defined – the current law doesn’t protect people from the type of abuse and targeting that most people with learning disabilities and autism think is hate crime. Some prosecutions fail because judges don’t think the threshold for hostility has been met. For someone to be convicted of a hate crime, it must be proved that they committed a crime and they “demonstrated hostility” towards the victim on the basis of the protected characteristic at the time of committing the offence (for example, through the use of a homophobic slur)

In response to the disability hate crime reforms, Dimensions argued that adding “prejudice” to the motivation limb would assist in recognising certain forms of criminal exploitation of disabled victims as forms of hate crime. The Commission has backed this recommendation.

Dimensions think the addition of ‘prejudice’ to ‘hostility’ brings so-called mate crime `grooming’ into the review of hate crime legislation. For example, if someone is befriending a learning-disabled person for the sake of financial or sexual exploitation, that will now be viewed as a hate crime and sentenced accordingly. Dimensions say this change is a huge win and a change that #ImWithSam has been calling for, for years.

The report states:

‘We also recommend that the range of aggravated offences that can be charged in relation to a crime against a disabled person include offences that are particularly prevalent. In particular, property and fraud offences and the criminalisation of coercive behaviour or exploitation involving a person who has a learning disability and/or autism. This may enable a better response to the specific issue of so-called ‘mate crime’, which is one of the most prevalent and sinister modes in which people who have a learning disability and autism are targeted for crime and abuse.’

  • Lack of clarity – the current law is confusing for people to understand – it is made up of different pieces of legislation and the terms used are complex and unhelpful. This means lots of people with learning disabilities and autism don’t understand their rights when it comes to hate crime. The Commission recommends that a single act be used to bring together existing hate crime laws and incorporate the recommendations in its report which we welcome.

Visit the Law Commission website to download the report in full and read more about disability hate crime reforms.

The latest findings also show in-person hate crime still plagued many disabled people’s lives during lockdown. Worryingly, almost half of the disability hate crimes reported last year were ‘violent’ (44%). These included assault and crimes involving weapons. Read CMM news and read case studies from people affected by disability hate crime and why reform is needed.


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