Levelling up the protection for disability victims of hate crime

We welcome the Law Commission report published today which reflects recommendations we have made for changes to hate crime legislation in the interests of people with learning disabilities.

In its report, the Commission recommends that disabled people receive the same protection as those targeted because of their race and religion.

We have long argued through our #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.

Dr Mark Brookes 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.”

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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, we 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.

    The addition of ‘prejudice’ to ‘hostility’ brings so-called mate crime `grooming’ into the review of hate crime legislation. So 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. It’s a huge win, one #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.”

  3. 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.