"I was in a park... and two men asked for a light. We were attacked by a group of six other men, who began to kick, punch and stab us. They shouted homophobic abuse and kicked my head like a football"
In light of remarks such as these by a victim of a homophobic attack and the publication last year of the Galop Report which presented evidence about the needs and priorities of LGBT communities in relation to hate crimes, University of Westminster student Cristian Angeloni says that there is an urgent need for all hate crimes to be equal before the law.
By Christian Angeloni
The first time that hate crime was introduced as a criminal offence in relation to racial and religious motives was in 1998 (Crime and Disorder Act 1998). It identified hate as an aggravation to the offence.
It was not until five years later, with the Criminal Justice Act 2003, that hate crimes received a wider and more inclusive “definition”. Although there is no set legal definition for hate crime, the police and prosecution services identify it as any criminal offence perceived to be motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation and identity or disability.
However, if hate is hate, why do we treat separate hate crimes differently?
In fact, under the Criminal and Disorder Act 1998, racially and religiously aggravated offences receive increased maximum sentences. Sexual orientation, sexual identity and disability do not. These types of hate crimes are treated as normal offences unless someone is found guilty.
In addition to the different treatment there are also different approaches to hate crimes. In England and Wales, the aggravated factor is only added when and if someone is found guilty. In Scotland the hate component is only added in the sentencing phase of the process, and Northern Ireland doesn’t recognise sexual identity as an aggravating factor to crimes.
A spokesperson for Galop, one of the UK’s leading LGBT anti-violence organisations, said: “Northern Irish law is currently lagging behind as it does not recognise transphobic violence as hate crime. We invite the Northern Ireland Executive to join us in looking towards an equal level of protection for everyone facing hate crime.
“We are calling for fair and equal protection for everyone facing hate crime. Homophobic and anti-disability violence are treated as less serious than other types of hate crime. In some case courts, can only give a sentence for one quarter as long for homophobic abuse compared with the racist and faith equivalents.”
The UK has come a long way in terms of equality being a leading example both in Europe and around the world. Barriers have been broken down in terms of social acceptance and social equality for all. Should it not also be time for all hate crimes to be treated and weighted equally? Why is a racially aggravated attack more serious than a homophobic one?
In their 2016 hate crime report, Galop has found that four in five LGBT people have experienced some form of hate crime at least once in their lives (http://www.galop.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Hate-Crime-Report-2016.pdf). There is legislation against discrimination in social, living and work spaces; so perhaps it’s time now for hate crimes to be equal before the law.