Disabled activists have welcomed a campaigning breakthrough after the government agreed to correct a major disparity in the sentencing of disability hate crime murders.
Justice secretary Ken Clarke announced that the government would introduce amendments in the House of Lords to ensure that the “tariff” for disability-motivated murders would match that for other hate crime murders.
There is currently a starting tariff – which can be increased or lowered due to other factors – of 15 years for disability-motivated murders, compared with 30 years for those with a sexual, racial or religious motivation.
The Labour MP Kate Green had proposed a new clause to the government’s legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which would have corrected the sentencing anomaly.
Her clause was supported by the disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard, who said there would be “utter incomprehension” among disabled people if MPs failed to “make progress on this issue, which should be a simple matter of human dignity and equality”.
During the bill’s report stage this week, Clarke promised that the government would bring forward an amendment to align the tariffs for disability-motivated hate crime murders with other hate crime murders when the bill moves to the Lords.
Green paid tribute to the efforts of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and other campaigners, in achieving the breakthrough.
Katharine Quarmby, whose ground-breaking new book Scapegoat investigates disability hate crime and who has been campaigning on the sentencing disparity since 2007, was among those praised by Green in the Commons.
Quarmby welcomed the “long overdue” change, and said: “I am so pleased that the government is honouring its pledge to alter the law so that murders committed because of a victim’s disability can be sentenced in the same way as murders committed for other forms of hate crime.”
She also praised Clarke’s commitment to wipe out the similar disparity for murders committed through hostility to transgender status.
She said: “I applaud the work of MPs working together, across party lines, to further this important reform, and also the work done by so many charities, so many disabled people and the families of those bereaved, behind the scenes, to make this reform reality.”
The bill, which will also cut an estimated £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget for England and Wales by 2014-15, completed its progress through the Commons this week and now moves to the Lords.
Critics have warned that the legal aid cuts will lead to the “decimation” of the civil law system and cause huge problems for disabled people.
Among the areas where eligibility for legal aid is set to be removed are legal advice on benefits and less serious housing and debt issues.
2 November 2011