Partner Geoff Rogers looks at the impact of the Crown Prosecution Service’s new guidelines on on-line hate crimes.
In August the Crown Prosecution Service published new guidelines (coinciding with a social media campaign) as to how it intends to prosecute hate crime in England and Wales. These guidelines cover all areas of hate crime including forms of disability, religion, homophobia and racism. They will affect how the Crown Prosecution Service are likely to decide whether someone should be charged with such an offence and how they should be dealt with in Court.
A hate crime is defined by the police and Crown Prosecution Service as any offence perceived by the victim to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender. There is a clear message from the new guidance that online crime will be treated just as seriously as offline offending. No doubt the issue of online hate crime has been emphasised as a result of what appears to be an ever-increasing volume of such offences being committed on social media. There is also a recognition of more specific hate crime relating to homophobic and transphobic offences.
The guidance goes on to confirm that once a case has been flagged by the Crown Prosecution Service as a hate crime, the flag will not be removed for any reason, other than error, thus showing the Crown Prosecution Service’s commitment to treat all such crimes seriously and to accept the victim’s perspective.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 gives the court powers to increase the sentence of any offence that is racially or religiously aggravated or aggravated by hostility on the grounds of sexual orientation or transgender identity. Indeed, the court is obliged to set out what increase to sentence it has imposed as a result of the basic offence being aggravated.
The guidelines also stress how the Crown Prosecution Service supports victims and witnesses of hate crimes, by emphasising what adjustments can be made within the criminal justice system to suit the individual needs of the victim or witness. This can include special reasons in court, such as giving evidence behind screens, via a live video link or through a professional intermediary.
The main purpose of the Crown Prosecution Service issuing these new guidelines is to encourage members of the public to come forward and report hate crime incidents. Time will tell if this turns out to be the case.