Hate Crime

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

Reforms to hate crime laws to make them fairer, and to protect women for the first time.

Download the Consultation Paper

Download the Summary of the Consultation Paper

Download an Easy Read version of the Summary Paper

Download a Welsh version of the Summary Paper

The Problem

Hate crimes are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are. Hate crime laws in England and Wales have developed in various phases over the past two decades, and the law currently recognises five protected characteristics:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender status.

But the criminal law does not treat all of those protected characteristics equally. This means that someone who is assaulted based on disability is not afforded the same protection as someone who is assaulted because of their race.

Other major concerns include:

  • The complexity and lack of clarity in the current laws which can make them hard to understand.
  • Concerns about the particular challenges in prosecuting disability hate crimes

There have also been calls for hate crime laws to be expanded to include new protected characteristics to tackle hatred such as misogyny and ageism, and hostility towards other groups such as homeless people, sex workers, people who hold non-religious philosophical beliefs (for example, humanists) and alternative subcultures (for example goths or punks).

The Consultation paper

In our consultation paper, launched on 23 September 2020, we have made a number of proposals for reform of hate crime laws. These include:

  • Equalising protection across all of the existing protected characteristics. This would involve extending the application of aggravated offences, stirring up hatred offences, and potentially football chanting offences to those characteristics that are not already covered
  • Adding sex or gender to the protected characteristics.
  • Establishing criteria for deciding whether any additional characteristics should be recognised in hate crime laws, and consulting further on a range of other characteristics, notably “age”.
  • Reformulating the offences of stirring up hatred to focus on deliberate incitement of hatred, providing greater protection for freedom of speech where no intent to incite hatred can be proven.
  • Expanding the offence of racist chanting at football matches to cover homophobic chanting, and other forms of behaviour, such as gestures and throwing missiles at players.

Dwelling exemption

The Chair of the Law Commission wrote to Lord Vinson of Roddamdene and Lord Pearson of Rannoch on 9 February 2021 in response to concerns around our proposal to remove the dwelling exemption. In the letter, the Chair explains that we’re looking at alternative ways of reforming the exemption.

You can read the Chair’s letter here.

The terms of reference for the review

To review the adequacy and parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime and to make recommendations for its reform.

It includes:

  • Reviewing the current range of specific offences and aggravating factors in sentencing, and making recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred of protected groups or characteristics.
  • Reviewing the existing range of protected characteristics, identifying gaps in the scope of the protection currently offered and making recommendations to promote a consistent approach.

In particular:

  • To consider developments in the law since the publication of the Law Commission report “Hate Crime: should the current offences be extended” in 2014;
  • To consider whether crimes motivated by, or demonstrating, hatred based on sex and gender characteristics, or hatred of older people or other potential protected characteristics should be hate crimes, with reference to underlying principle and the practical implications of changing the law;
  • To consider the specific statutory incitement of hatred offences under the Public Order Act 1986 and to make recommendations on whether they should be extended or reformed;
  • To consider the impact of changing the law relating to hate crime on other aspects of criminal justice, including other offences and sentencing practice;
  • To ensure that any recommendations comply with, and are conceptually informed by, human rights obligations, including under articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • Consideration of the implications of any recommendations for other areas of law including the Equality Act 2010.

Previous Publications

Background information for the project is set out in our information paper.

A Welsh version of the information paper can be found here.

An easy-read version of the information paper can be found here.

Our earlier work “Hate Crime: Should the Current Offences be Extended” can be found here.

Next steps

We are now analysing the responses to our consultation, which will inform the development of our final recommendations for reform. We are aiming to publish the final report in 2021.


Contact us here: hate.crime@lawcommission.gov.uk

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law


Professor Penney Lewis