Northern Ireland news

Public consultation on hate crime launched as eight incidents a day reported to PSNI

Judge Desmond Marrinan who is leading the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Northern Ireland. Picture by Michael Cooper.

A CONSULTATION into how hate crimes are prosecuted in Northern Ireland is to be launched today, with the possibility of introducing specific legislation to deal with the increase in racially motivated attacks.

There are currently around eight hate incidents reported to the PSNI every day, higher than England and Wales.

In 2017 racist hate crimes outnumbered sectarian hate crimes in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan has been carrying out an independent review of hate crime legislation.

The review has looked at a workable and agreed definition of a hate crime and whether the current 'enhanced sentence' approach is appropriate for Northern Ireland.

Under 2004 legislation there is no specific hate crime laws in Northern Ireland but there is provision for an 'enhanced sentence' if that was an aggravating factor to the crime.

Currently violent crimes, where the aggravating factor has been the victim's religion, race, sexual orientation or disability, are not recorded as such even after conviction and imposing a higher sentence is at the discretion of the trial judge.

Judge Marrinan's review has looked at a legally workable definition of a hate crime.

The review has also looked at whether new categories of hate crime should be created for characteristics such as gender, age and even homelessness.

The PSNI currently define hate crime using guidance issued to UK police forces following a review of the Metropolitan police handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence which involves perception based monitoring of a reported crime.

Chief Superintendent Emma Bond, the PSNI's service lead for hate crime, said this can be based on information provided by the complainant or from officers attending the scene based on perception of circumstances.

There are currently more racially motivated hate crimes reported in Northern Ireland than sectarian offences.

There is no specific legal protection for members of the transgender community.

The consultation will also look at removing symbols of hate expression from public places.

This will include the question of duties of public authorities to remove, racist , homophobic or sectarian graffiti. This might include items displayed at roadsides or on other public property.

Online hate crimes, and how to manage the rise of internet harassment while preserving freedom of speech, is also part of the consultation.

Judge Marrinan said "Hate crime figures have been high for a number of year with just over eight incidents reported every day.

"The law in this area, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, has developed in a piecemeal way and this had led for calls for a review of hate crime legislation from a range of sources".

Judge Marrinan added: "This review has been designed to be wide ranging and will explore various important options and ideas to improve and strengthen the law, if necessary, and render it effective to deal with criminal conduct motivated by hatred, malice, ill will or prejudice including hate crime and abuse that takes place online."

The hate crime legislation consultation starts today and will close on March 31, 2020. visit hatecrimereviewni.org.uk for further details.

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