Reviewing UK hate crime laws

Natasha White writes.

The Law Commission are currently working on a review of UK hate crime law, looking at the current laws in place, as well as reflecting changes in society to keep up with modern living. This review could impact across many areas in psychology, as well as the UK in general. I have been working with Citizens UK, keeping involved in the review and coming together with others in consultation meetings ahead of the official launch of the review in March this year.

In the UK, we have hate crime laws which exist to protect individuals who have been targets of crimes because of particular characteristics they possess: disability, race, sexual orientation, transgender identity and religion. This means that if a crime is committed and the motive for that is determined to be because of one of these characteristics, then it will be investigated, tried and sentenced according to guidelines for hate crime offences.

Recently, with public attitudes and social movements such as the #MeToo campaign, there has been debate around whether other characteristics, such as age and gender, should also be considered under the hate crime Laws.

Following a campaign from Citizens UK (Nottingham Citizens), Nottingham Police trialled misogyny as a hate crime from 5 April 2016. By the end of December 2016, they had received a total of 31 reported misogynistic hate crimes and 48 reported misogynistic hate incidents, totalling 79 reports under the trialled definition in the space of six months (see tinyurl.com/y4h9uxz3).  

Since this finding, other police forces have also taken on treating misogyny as a hate crime, while other forces have adopted this approach for different factors, including identifying as a ‘goth’. This wave of police forces trialling new hate crimes, combined with social movements, raised the idea in Parliament of a review on the UK hate crime laws to be carried out by the Law Commission – a separate organisation who carry out research, using experiences and data from across the country, to create a final report, which the government then considers to guide any changes in laws and legislation.

As a result of these events, the UK Government commissioned the Law Commission to launch a review looking into the existing categories covered under hate crime law, as well as whether there are others which need to be added.

The review itself will not mean the law has to change, but is instead used to advise the government when they are making decisions. This means that the findings presented in the report may not translate directly into changes that are made, however, recommendations from previous reviews have been taken up in roughly 70 per cent of cases and the reports often have a wider impact on society beyond just changes in law.

There are a number of organisations already involved in the review, including Citizens UK, Dimensions, the Fawcett Society, Stonewall, the Mental Health Foundation, naming only a few, and many more are getting involved as the review continues. I have been involved through Citizens UK, doing research into misogyny and sexual harassment for the past three years, but the Law Commission are also looking at research or personal experience stories of the impact of crimes motivated by any of these characteristics to feed into the review and give a national picture.

This review could have implications in psychology wider than just support for victims of these forms of hate crime, with mental health, social psychology and forensic psychology being the obvious areas to be impacted, and a ripple effect filtering across into other areas of psychology as well.

The hate crime review may only be in the early stages at the moment, but this is definitely work to keep your eyes on as it develops over the next couple of years (see tinyurl.com/yyekds23).

Natasha White
Student, Middlesex University

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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