Disability Hate Crime must be treated as Hate Crime

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2018 National Disabled Members' Conference
3 July 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference is rightly proud of UNISON’s record of fighting Disability Hate Crime. We campaigned to raise awareness of Disability Hate Crime, for better reporting systems and fairer media coverage. We campaigned for disabled people to be treated as reliable witnesses and for more support for victims and witnesses.

The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) define Disability Hate Crime as:

“Any crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability”

And while CPS guidance states that prosecutors should be aware of common features of Disability Hate Crime including:

• Befriending victims to create trust;

• Cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment;

• False accusations against the victim; and

• Incidents that increase in severity or frequency.

The definition is very subjective as there is no legal definition of hostility. What one person sees as a Disability Hate Crime may not be seen as such by another. There has been progress but more needs to be done as the latest reports published in late 2017 show:

• Abuse of disabled people jumped to 3,079 from 1,531 in the previous year;

• Hate crimes against disabled children rose by 148% from 181 to 450;

• Prosecutions of disability hate crime were at a record level of 1,009;

• Conviction rates are increasing; and

• Worryingly there is still significant underreporting of disability hate crime

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows for an increased sentence for those found guilty of Disability Hate Crime but while prosecutions and convictions are up there are still a disturbing number of crimes against disabled people not being flagged as Disability Hate Crime.

Even when a case is flagged a judge can still decide not to treat it as a hate crime as seen in a recent murder case which the police and CPS treated as a Disability Hate Crime but where the judge decided that the victim was targeted because he was vulnerable and not because he was disabled even though it was the disability that made the victim vulnerable.

Some people think it doesn’t matter if a crime is treated as a Disability Hate Crime as long as the perpetrator is found guilty but it does matter because It leads to lesser sentences, the victim or their family feeling justice hasn’t been served and more disabled people failing to report Disability Hate Crimes because they feel they won’t be taken seriously.

Defining Disability Hate Crime by simply adding disability to the existing definition of hate crime has proved to be inadequate. Some disabled people may be more physically or mentally vulnerable than non-disabled people. Some disabled people can be more trusting and less able to interpret behaviours than non-disabled people. And sometimes disabled people don’t realise when they are being used or taken advantage of.

Disability Hate Crime is different to other types of hate crime because disabled people face barriers that non-disabled people don’t. It is not better or worse but it is different. It is time to recognise that Disability Hate Crime is different and that to deal with it effectively means dealing with it differently.

Conference calls on National Disabled Members Committee to work with the NEC to:

1. Raise awareness of how Disability Hate Crime is different to other types of hate crime;

2.Campaign for a legal definition of Disability Hate Crime that includes crimes committed due to some disabled people’s perceived vulnerabilities or the barriers faced; and

3.Work with Labour Link to lobby the government for the introduction of legislation that sets out the criteria under which a recommendation to treat an offense as a Disability Hate Crime can be overruled.

4. Publicise UNISON’s guide ‘Tackling Hate Crime and Hate Incidents: A Workplace Issue’