The prospect of tougher laws on disability hate crime has moved a step closer, after the government’s advisers on law reform launched a review of how current legislation was working.
The Law Commission will look at two possible changes, both mentioned in the government’s hate crime action plan in March, but will not report until the spring of 2014.
The first possible change will involve looking at how crimes such as assault or criminal damage are currently prosecuted as “aggravated” offences with higher sentences – under the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 – if the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by racial or religious hostility.
The commission will examine whether these aggravated offences should now be extended to crimes motivated by hostility on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Law Commission will also examine laws that provide protection – under the Public Order Act 1986 – against publication of material intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion or sexual orientation.
The commission will examine whether those offences should now be extended to disability and gender identity.
The government has already doubled to 30 years the starting point for sentences for murders motivated by hate on the grounds of disability or transgender status – in line with other hate crime murders – after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act became law in May.
But disabled activists have long campaigned for the laws on aggravated offences and stirring up hatred to be extended to disability-related offences.
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said the Law Commission review was “really quite significant”.
She suggested that new laws on inciting hatred of disabled people could persuade newspapers to “think twice” before they write stories that could stir up such hostility, and could put an end to some of the “lazy disablist remarks” often made across the media.
She said: “I think people would be much more careful of causing offence if they knew there was a possible criminal action.”
Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL) also welcomed the Law Commission’s announcement, and added: “SCIL believes that legislation should be reformed to extend protection to all five groups and will be making representations to the Law Commission to this effect.”
Damian Green, the Conservative justice minister, said: “All hate crimes are deplorable; they leave people living in fear of unprovoked attacks and violence.
“We are pleased that the Law Commission has been able to take on this review and look forward to receiving their report.”