The issue of hate crime and how to tackle it has become of increasing significance over the last two decades, particularly in light of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. Although incitement to racial hatred offences existed under the Public Order Act 1986 (POA), the Government introduced specific legislation to tackle racist hate crime under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (CDA). These offences created aggravated versions of basic offences which were committed when an offender was motivated by or demonstrated racial hostility. Religion was added to the CDA provisions in 20013 and to the POA in 2006, whilst the POA provisions were further extended to sexual orientation in 2008. The CDA also introduced a sentencing provision which in its current form under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (CJA) requires all sentencing judges to take account of any hostility towards race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity as an aggravating feature which increases the level of punishment an offender may receive. Although opinion is divided as to whether a state should introduce targeted legislation in order to tackle hate crime, hate crime statutes now appear in many jurisdictions across the world. In March 2012, the Hate Crime Action Plan was launched which sought to outline the Government’s strategy for reducing the levels of hate crime experienced by victims. Combatting hate crime is seen as central to ensuring that as a society we “embrace [the] rich mix of different races, cultures, beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles” that exist in Britain today. Effective legislation is at the heart of the Hate Crime Action Plan and is fundamental to its success. With this in mind, in November 2012 the Ministry of Justice, as part of a cross-departmental Government initiative on hate crime, asked the Law Commission to consider the case for broadening the scope of the CDA and POA provisions to bring them into line with the greater range of victims protected under the CJA. The Law Commission published its final report on the matter in May 2014 in a report entitled Hate Crime: Should the Current Offences be Extended? This article seeks to assess the Law Commission’s recommendations. In the first section a summary of the current law will be provided, followed by a brief overview of the recommendations. The subsequent sections will deal with each of the recommendations in more detail. It will be argued that the review of the CDA offences recommended by the Law Commission should be extended to include the entire legislative framework which deals with hate crime. This is because reform in this area has been piecemeal, resulting in a disordered set of laws which do not necessarily give effective protection to hate crime victims. Examining the CDA in isolation from the CJA and the POA will not satisfactorily address the problems with the current legislation, and runs the risk of overlooking the importance of assessing these provisions as a comprehensive body of hate crime law.
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\School of Law
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