Government omits hate crime murder measures from sentencing bill


The government has failed to fulfil its pledge to end the glaring disparity between sentences for disability and other hate crime murders.

Someone found guilty of a race hate murder, or one based on hostility to religion or sexuality, faces a “starting tariff” – which could be increased or lowered due to other factors – of at least 30 years in prison.

But under schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, someone found guilty of a disability hate crime murder faces a starting tariff of just 15 years.

Last December, the Ministry of Justice published a green paper, Breaking the Cycle, which included a pledge to tighten the law on hate crime, including an examination of schedule 21.

Discussing the sentencing framework for murder, the green paper pledged to “replace the current list of groups which attract the statutory aggravating factor in sentencing for hate crime with a general aggravating factor where the offender demonstrates hatred or hostility to a particular group”.

But the government’s response to a consultation on the green paper, published last month, makes no mention of schedule 21 or its hate crime pledge.

And there are no measures on increasing sentences for disability hate crime murders in the coalition’s new legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which had its first reading in the Commons on the same day.

The Ministry of Justice said the government had decided to abandon reform of Schedule 21 as a whole but that it still intended to find a way to tighten sentencing laws for disability hate crime murders.

The discrepancy in sentencing provision was highlighted the month before the green paper was published by the case of Martin Mather, who was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating a disabled man to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales.

Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime. Mather was told he would serve a minimum of just 17 years in prison.

20 July 2011

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