UK should make significant changes to tackle hate crime

28th Oct 2016

Ala Abbas

Big changes in law and policy, such as a new press regulator, are some of the recommendations which have come from a new report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The report, published on October 4, found the British justice system is ignoring race as a motivation in many attacks.

The report expressed concerns that hate crime is going unpunished. It points to the fact that “there is no data available on the application of enhanced sentencing and the racially-motivated aspects of cases are often filtered out by the police, Crown Prosecution Service or judiciary or dropped through the process of accepting guilty pleas.”

When it came to the role of the mainstream media in perpetuating prejudice, the report stated that “in light of the fact that Muslims are increasingly under the spotlight” due to the recent increase in Daesh attacks, “fuelling prejudice against Muslims shows a reckless disregard, not only for the dignity of the great majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, but also for their safety.” A recent study by Teeside University suggests that where the media stresses the Muslim background of perpetrators of terrorist acts, “the violent backlash against Muslims is likely to be greater than in cases where the perpetrators’ motivation is downplayed or rejected in favour of alternative explanations.”

ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities find a way to establish an independent press regulator according to the recommendations set out in the Leveson Report. It recommends more rigorous training for journalists to ensure better compliance with ethical standards.

The report argues in favour of broadening the definition of hate crime to include different forms of hate speech. Hate crime is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as “hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.” ECRI goes further in its definition of hate crime by including “harassment, insult, negative stereotyping” and “stigmatization”.

Dr Imran Awan, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, said that social media sites had a responsibility to enforce stricter standards of behaviour. He said, “The report shows that there were quite a number of instances that the police did not follow up, or that social media sites did not follow up proactively.”

He argued that “the police are not prosecuting because they’re unsure what the law is, and they’re worried that some of this might just be abuse online as opposed to hate speech.”

The report also recommends that the authorities improve the Equality Act by introducing the obligation to suppress public financing of organisations or political parties which promote racism and the possibility of dissolution of such organisations.

According to the Home Office, 52,528 hate motivated criminal offences were reported in 2014-2015. Of these, 82% belonged to the category of race hate crime. The category with the largest increase was religious hate crime, which rose by 43% compared to 2013-2014.

If the official statistics are compared to those gathered by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, a face-to-face victimisation survey in which people aged 16 and over are asked about their experiences of crime in the past 12 months, then only about one in four hate-motivated offences is recorded by the police. This may indicate deficiencies in police recording of hate-motivated offences. The report does note, however, that the increase in hate crime incidents can be “attributed partially to improvements in police recording.”

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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