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

Reviewing the adequacy of protection offered by hate crime legislation. This project is underway and we will publish a consultation paper in the middle of 2020.

Find out about the project with 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.

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

The Problem

Hate crimes are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are.

The police and CPS, in general, record data on hate crimes for five protected characteristics:

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

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

The law responds to hate crime in four ways:

  • Additional “aggravated” offences with longer sentences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 if an offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on race or religion.
  • Prohibiting conduct that is likely to stir up hatred on grounds of race, or intended to do so on grounds of religion or sexual orientation in the Public Order Act 1986.
  • Enhanced sentencing under sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 if hostility is motivated by any of the five protected characteristics.
  • The provision of Sentencing guidelines. Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires that a sentencing judge must follow any sentencing guideline which is relevant to their case. This includes, for example, consideration of whether the offence was motivated by racial or religious hostility, or if it was motivated by or demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on one or more of a number of such as the victims’ age, sex, gender identity (or presumed gender identity), disability (or presumed disability) or sexual orientation.

There has been growing concern about whether a sufficient range of characteristics are protected by the hate crime legislation. For example, does the criminal law respond adequately to hostility based on sex or gender characteristics (with misogyny being a particular concern), age, physical characteristics, or membership of specific sub-cultures?

The project

In May 2014 we published our report “Hate Crime: Should the current offences be extended.” One of our recommendations was that a full-scale review of the aggravated offences and the enhanced sentencing system to see if they should be retained in their current form or amended. Our terms of reference had prevented us from doing this.

In September 2018 Lucy Frazer MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, announced that she would be asking the Law Commission to complete a wide-ranging review into hate crime to explore how to make current legislation more effective and consider if there should be additional protected characteristics.

Professor David Ormerod QC, former Law Commissioner said:

“Our project will ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection against those who commit crimes demonstrating hatred.

We are pleased to have this opportunity to identify more effective ways of tackling hate crime in all its forms.”

Building on the previous work, the project will review the adequacy and parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime and to make recommendations for its reform. It will also consider which characteristics (for example gender, age, disability) deserve enhanced protection in criminal law and on what basis.

The project started in March 2019. Over the course of that year we met with many groups and individuals who have an interest in this area of the law across England and Wales. We are aiming to conduct a formal consultation in the middle of 2020.

We expect to report in 2021.

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.

Contacting the Commission

If you would like to be on the mailing list for this project please write to us at hate.crime@lawcommission.gov.uk.

We would also welcome the opportunity to meet you or the organisation you represent. Please get in touch. We will respond to your email as soon as we can, and will be organising a full programme of meetings and events during 2019.

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law


Professor Penney Lewis