Disabled activists have welcomed a speech by the director of public prosecutions, in which he has called for the criminal justice system to do more to tackle disability hate crime.
Keir Starmer admitted that, although the Crown Prosecution System (CPS) was doing a lot of good work, it was “still in the foothills” when it came to tackling disability hate crime and supporting disabled victims and witnesses.
He said that more disabled people needed to realise that “constant name calling, mimicking and bullying” were criminal activities and should be reported.
Starmer told the audience at the University of Sussex’s law school that he believed thousands of disability hate crimes were going unreported every year.
But he warned that “even when disability hate crime is reported, those with responsibility to deal with it often advise victims to ignore all but the most serious of incidents”.
He said: “Disability hate crime strikes at all disabled people by undermining their sense of safety and security in the community. For this reason disability hate crime should be regarded as particularly serious.”
Starmer said the CPS had made “good progress” in dealing with disability hate crime, and had introduced new monitoring procedures to check its own performance, but admitted that “to date, victims and witnesses with disabilities have not been well served by the criminal justice system”.
Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and the lead on hate crime issues for the UK Disabled People’s Council, welcomed the speech, and said the CPS had been “working positively in the last couple of years on this issue”.
But she said the CPS still needed to do more, such as ensuring disability hate crime was a priority for its community hate crime panels, and involving disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in its work.
And she said there were still very few cases in which courts were treating offences as disability hate crimes, with convicted offenders handed tougher sentences.
She said: “We still have to see the outcome when it comes to justice for disabled people. You’re talking the talk now. Great, but let’s see the justice.”
Stephen Brookes, another coordinator of the network, said he was “very pleased” with the speech, which he believed showed the CPS’s commitment to engaging with the community on disability hate crime would continue, despite cuts to public spending.
He said the speech showed that investing the necessary time and resources in identifying, investigating and prosecuting disability hate crimes would still have a “very high commitment” within the CPS.
3 March 2011