The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has launched a plan aimed at increasing the number of disability hate crimes it prosecutes successfully, after new figures showed this fell last year.
The CPS figures show that the number of successful convictions fell in 2013-14 from 494 to 470, at a time when the number of convictions for all hate crimes rose from 10,794 to 11,915.
The drop in disability hate crime convictions came despite a slight increase in the number of cases referred to CPS by the police, from 579 to 581, and an increase in the conviction rate from 77.2 per cent in 2012-13 to 81.9 per cent in 2013-14.
This appears to be because the number of disability hate crime prosecutions taken on by CPS plunged from 640 to 574.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and a member of CPS’s community accountability forum, said CPS had admitted that its new digital charging system had been failing to pick up disability hate crime cases where prosecutors would need to ask for a stricter sentence under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.
He said CPS had admitted it had “taken its eye off the ball”, although the overall picture was “confusing”, with more cases referred to CPS by police than the previous year, and an increase in the conviction rate, but a fall in the number of disability hate crime prosecutions.
Brookes called for CPS and police forces to work together more closely on disability hate crime.
But he said it was also “important to note the absolute failure of the judiciary at all levels to give disabled people confidence in the judicial system”.
He said: “The ignorance of judges in even starting to understand the added issues of being disabled, which is clear in their failure to apply section 146 when it is – albeit rarely – applied, is a national disgrace and is clearly and substantially responsible for the failure of disabled people to bother to report cases, given the decreasing chance of real justice.”
He called for a new working party to be set up to look at reporting, charging and sentencing disability hate crime.
So far, CPS has been unable to explain the reason for the fall in prosecutions and successful convictions.
But Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said in an earlier statement that CPS was “working hard with the police to encourage more disability hate crime cases to be referred to us, and we will be really focusing on our handling of these cases through the court system”.
She said she was launching a new Disability Hate Crime Action Plan, which “addresses where we must improve our handling of disability hate crime cases”.
Among the actions in the plan, there will be more training, guidance and resources for prosecutors.
There will also be improvements to the identification, recording and monitoring of cases, and prosecutors will be “reissued” with clear guidance to ensure that “sentence uplift applications” for disability hate crime cases are made “whenever possible”.
CPS is currently looking at individual cases and talking to focus groups, to monitor the experiences of victims of disability hate crime.
It is also “refreshing” national minimum standards for its area hate crime coordinators.
23 October 2014