Tougher sentences for hate crimes proposed

Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court
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Hate criminals will face tougher penalties if they abuse a position of trust, authority or influence under new sentencing proposals.

Draft guidelines published on Wednesday set out how courts in England and Wales should deal with offenders convicted of public order offences related to stirring up hatred against people or groups on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.

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When determining the punishment, magistrates and judges would place the perpetrator in one of three categories of culpability.

Cases in the most serious bracket would include those where the offender is in a position of trust, authority or influence, and abuses their standing to stir up hatred.

Offences where there is an intention to incite serious violence or evidence of persistent activity would also fall in the "high culpability" section.

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A consultation document detailing the Sentencing Council's plans said: "Among the cases analysed there were a number of 'hate speech' type offences, where inflammatory speeches were given by influential figures with the intention of stirring up racial hatred.

"Other cases involved publication on YouTube of content inciting serious violence towards particular racial or religious groups, websites being published including abusive and insulting content, with some activity continuing over a long period of time and intended to reach global audiences.

"The council considers that activities of the type listed represent the highest level of culpability for these offences, as they demonstrate a serious intention to stir up hatred towards particular groups."

Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits activities intended or likely to stir up racial hatred, while part 3A prohibits activities based on hatred against people on religious grounds or grounds of sexual orientation.

Cases can be brought as a result of a range of conduct including the use of words, publication of written material, distribution of a recording or possession of inflammatory material. The legislation carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

Volumes of these offences are "extremely low", the Sentencing Council said, with no sentences recorded in some categories.

"However, given the recent social climate and an enhanced focus on this type of offending, the council considers it would be useful for sentencers to be equipped with guidance on sentencing these offences," the body added.

The proposed approach to sentencing in hate cases is outlined in wide-ranging draft guidelines covering public order offences. Other crimes covered by the proposals include rioting, violent disorder and affray.

Pointing to Home Office figures showing a 29 per cent increase in recorded hate crimes in 2016/17, the Sentencing Council said a guideline on public order would be incomplete if it did not cover racially or religiously aggravated public order offences and those which specifically address stirring up of racial or religious hatred or hatred based on sexual orientation.

Sentencing Council member Judge Sarah Munro QC said: "Our courts need to help ensure the protection of the public from these violent offences.

"The guidelines we are proposing will ensure that courts have comprehensive guidance for dealing with the great range of offending from large-scale riots to low-level disorder."

Sentencing guidelines must be followed unless a judge or magistrate feels it is not the interests of justice to do so. The consultation closes on August 8.

Justice Minister Rory Stewart said: "We need much clearer rules on how to deal with public disorder. Too often people are threatening and intimidating the public.

"The police and the courts need to be able to respond firmly and clearly. Citizens are entitled to travel safely and calmly in public spaces without fear.

"These measures will help protect the public."