A disability hate crime is a criminal offence motivated by hatred or prejudice towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability. It is also a criminal offence in which immediately before, after or during the offence the perpetrator demonstrates hostility towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability. (See s.146 Criminal Justice Act 2003)
Disability hate crime is a direct attack on a person's identity and an infringement of their human rights. It is pervasive and a regular feature of the lives of many people with disabilities. Research by Mencap (Living in Fear, 2000) found that nearly nine out of ten people with learning disabilities had been harassed or attacked within the last year, with 32% saying they experienced harassment or attacks on a daily or weekly basis. 23% had been assaulted. The cases of Steven Hoskin and Brent Martin show that at the extreme of disability hate crime, people are murdered because of their disabilities. Mr Hoskin's case and the case of Raymond Atherton also demonstrate that a series of minor disability hate crimes may dramatically escalate.
While criminal justice agencies have made progress in improving their responses to disability hate crime, ACT fears that the responses of criminal justice professionals on the frontline still has much to be desired. Our fear is that many disability hate crimes are not reported and, if they are reported, are not identified as hate crimes by criminal justice agencies. In addition, victims may not be receiving the assistance they need to give their best evidence, so reducing the chance of convictions. Home Office research has shown that the police only identify, at best, half of all vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (Home Office Online Report 01/06, 2006). It is also our experience that prosecutors are often reluctant to pursue cases involving victims with learning disabilities.
The public is largely ignorant about the existence of disability hate crime and little attempt is made to confront the public prejudice which feeds these crimes. The denouncements of disability hate crime which are made by policymakers have been too quiet and too rare to achieve change.
ACT has given evidence on disability hate crime to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Valuing People Now is the Government's refresh of its policies relating to people with learning disabilities. In our submission to the consultation we made comments and suggestions regarding disability hate crime and you can read the relevant excerpts of our submission by clicking here. Read our full response here - Valuing People Now.