Everyone reading David Kurten’s TCW article ‘All you need is hate’ will be grateful for his clear and scathing condemnation of the new raft of hate crime legislation. It certainly helped clarify for me that I hadn’t fully realised the scope of these developments, and I’m fairly sure that not many others have either. To try to get my head round the whole issue, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth – that of Alison Saunders and her CPS – to seek out the nitty gritty.
How does the CPS define a hate crime? According to its website, hate crime describes a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by, or demonstrates, hostility towards the victim in relation to his or her protected characteristic(s) – see the Equality Act 2010 and the Nine Protected Characteristics. And as Gary Oliver has pointed out in his TCW article, this always means hostility against the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, or transgender identity. But after MP Stella Creasy’s intervention, misogyny has to be added to the list if being a woman, regardless of background, hue or sexual orientation, also becomes a protected characteristic.
The problem here is the definition, or rather lack of it, of the concept of ‘hostility’. So, says Saunders, ‘we use the everyday understanding of the word’, which includes ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment, and dislike. I assure you I am not making this up. It’s there on the website. Unfriendliness and dislike are being equated with criminal behaviour. And if any of these attitudes are perceived and reported, the CPS can apply to the courts for a ‘sentence uplift’.
Given that there are 900 police personnel specifically allocated to dealing with these crimes, just how significantly do they figure in the overall picture? With only 4 per cent of robberies and 3 per cent of burglaries prosecuted in 2017, and 90 per cent of knifepoint robberies in London going unpunished, you can only deduce that the volume of hate crimes must be stratospheric.
According to the CPS report, hate crimes accounted for 2.5 per cent of the CPS caseload in 2016/17. The overall conviction rate is 83.4 per cent of cases prosecuted.
Nine hundred officers just for that? But they’re working on it. In some areas, there have been falls in prosecutions as a result of a drop in police referrals, for example, in the Race and Religion ‘key strand’. You might think they’d be pleased at that. Apparently not. They now see the need to ensure that police identify reasons for this fall, and ‘address ways to ensure referrals are made correctly’. Training is the answer – improve perception! Other key strands are even more woeful. In Transphobic, referrals are down by 11.2 per cent. Then there is the new concept, Stirring Up Hatred, which gave rise to all of four prosecutions in 2015/16, all successful. The strand Against Older People is connected with Wilful Neglect and Ill Treatment law because of the perceived vulnerability of the victims. But completed prosecutions here fell by 5.5 per cent.
Apart from the police service and the CPS, there seems to be a significant volume and related cost in the bureaucracy detailed in the report:
- The Hate Crime Insurance scheme
- Hate Crime Co-ordinators
- Links with Social Media
- Public consultations on all monitored strands
- #Hate Crime Matters
- Action Plan to support Gypsy, Travellers and Roma communities
- DPP visits to community stakeholders
- National Police Chiefs Council hate crime lead at Manchester Conference 2017
- CPS guidelines 2016 on recognising and reporting hate crime
- And in future : community engagement and inclusion, refreshed government arrangements
- All to ensure that the CPS improves its performance through ‘robust strategic oversight’.
It seems to me that there is a vast bureaucracy in search of sensational data. It all looks even more insubstantial when you look at the actual numbers – after all, you can’t prosecute a percentage. The numbers appear in the CPS Data Report. Completed hate crime convictions:
These totals seem astonishingly sparse, given the resources thrown at the problem, and the increase in prosecutions pathetically meagre. But we need to look at the mainstream crime figures to get a sense of proportion. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales the police recorded 5.3million offences in the year to September 2016, an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year. Within that, sexual offences rose by 23 per cent. Looking at London alone, in June 2018 there were 89,075 crimes reported. Just the total for shoplifting, bike theft and public order offences in London equate to the total for hate crimes nationwide. Way more prevalent are crimes of violence, burglary, robbery, drugs and weapons – actual physical harm, not just un-PC attitudes – and grossly under-managed by the police service.
How can taxpayers be expected to think that their contribution to the police coffers – however much they have dwindled – is being well spent? The fact is that crime prevention and punishment does not lie at the heart of this legislation. Many studies have shown that this sort of law-making is counterproductive and only worthy of repeal. Indeed, US law researchers James B Jacobs and Kimberley Potter concluded in 1998: ‘Certainly crime is a problem today. But the crime problem is not synonymous with the prejudice problem. Indeed there is very little overlap between the two. With the important exception of crime against women, most crime is intraracial and intragroup. Hard-core ideologically driven hate crimes are fortunately rare. Teasing out the bias that exists in a wider range of context-specific crimes that may occur between members of different groups serves no useful purpose. To the contrary, it is likely to be divisive, conflict-generating, and socially and politically counter-productive.’
And there you have it – far from dealing with real crime, these laws may actually be ‘stirring up hatred’, words the CPS report itself uses, even if disingenuously. These laws do nothing to protect the public from harm, but are actually putting people more at risk. And it now seems clear that it’s all quite deliberate. Inter-group conflict, social divisiveness, a divide-and-rule policy which ends up doing the opposite of its stated objective. A totalitarian step backwards which no democracy should tolerate.
Oh dear – in writing this, I think I might just have committed a hate crime . . . Help !