The number of prosecutions of disability hate crime offences has slumped yet again, despite both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police chiefs admitting last year that their performance was not good enough and must improve.
Last year, CPS hate crime lead Lionel Idan told Disability News Service (DNS) that figures on disability hate crime prosecutions made for “woeful reading”, and he pledged to “move every stone I can” to improve them.
Mark Hamilton, hate crime lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), told DNS last year that the performance of police forces across the country in providing justice for victims of disability hate crime was “not good enough” and needed to improve.
And yet the latest figures show that the number of prosecutions and convictions has continued to slide.
Following the release of annual figures from the Home Office, which show the number of recorded hate crime offences for 2022-23, DNS has analysed CPS figures to show how its performance for 2022-23 – and that of police forces – compares with 2021-22.
DNS has now been raising concerns for five years about the plummeting number of cases being passed to CPS by police, and the falling number of disability hate crime prosecutions.
Home Office statistics for police forces across England and Wales* show that the number of disability hate crimes recorded fell slightly in 2022-23, compared with 2021-22, from 13,905 to 13,777, the first recorded fall since the data series began in 2011-12.
But figures from 30 of the police forces also show that the percentage of offences that led to a charge or summons was far lower for those cases flagged as disability hate crimes than for those seen as non-hate crime offences.
With offences of “violence against the person”, just one per cent of those flagged as a disability hate crime led to a charge or summons, compared with five per cent of non-hate crime cases.
With public order offences, just two per cent of those flagged as a disability hate crime led to a charge or summons, compared with six per cent of non-hate crime cases, and 14 per cent of those that were flagged as sexual orientation hate crimes.
But CPS figures also show that the number of prosecutions of disability hate crime offences fell by about 10 per cent in the year to 2022-23, from 345 to just 311, with successful convictions falling from 273 to 245, also about 10 per cent.
This will have been heavily influenced by how few cases are passed to CPS by police, with forces passing on only 269 disability hate crime cases last year, although that was an increase on the 243 passed on in 2021-22.
As recently as 2016-17, CPS was completing 1,009 prosecutions of disability hate crimes, more than three times as many as there were last year, while police were passing on nearly 1,000 disability hate crime cases to CPS.
But these figures have been falling sharply in recent years.
By 2018-19 the number of cases passed to CPS had plunged to 367, and it kept dropping, to 320 in 2019-20, to 298 in 2020-21 and to just 243 across the whole of England and Wales in 2021-22, before rising last year to just 269.
The CPS figures mean that prosecutions as a proportion of total disability hate crimes recorded by police in 2022-23 was just 2.26 per cent, even without figures for Devon and Cornwall police.
That means that in 2016-17, there were about 5,400 disability hate crime offences recorded by police and 1,009 prosecutions, compared with 13,777 disability hate crimes recorded by police and only 311 prosecutions in 2022-23.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the figures were “shocking but not surprising” and yet again revealed “the depth and extent of disablism within our police forces and wider criminal justice system”.
She said: “We are rightly at a crossroads in policing and the criminal justice system in relation to racism, misogyny and homophobia.
“Disablism must be understood and explicitly addressed alongside these other institutional forms of oppression and discrimination.
“The barriers that prevent victims of disability hate crime getting justice are institutional, systemic and complex.
“We need root and branch reform to dismantle these barriers and tackle disablism, so we can better prevent and respond to disability hate crime.”
She added: “Action must be strategic and systems wide, including mandatory disability equality training for police forces and the CPS, re-instatement and roll out of initiatives such as Disability Hate Crime Matters that directly lead to improved recording of disability hate crime and in-depth engagement and co-production with DDPOs**.
“Equally important is long-term investment in DDPO/community-based work to tackle the chronic under-reporting of DHC and ensure adequate provision of hate crime advocacy services to support victims of DHC.”
Dr David Wilkin, a disabled activist, researcher, author and support worker for victims of disability hate crime, said the number of cases referred to CPS by police “remains an unacceptably poor rate” and appeared “inexplicable”.
He said there was an urgent need to investigate the causes of the figures.
Asked why police forces were still passing so few disability hate crime cases to CPS when there were so many recorded offences, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said it would not have time to comment, despite being given three days to do so.
CPS declined to explain why it thought its figures had continued to worsen, despite its past promise to try to improve.
But Lionel Idan, chief crown prosecutor for London South and CPS hate crime lead, said in a statement: “Hate crime directed at people with disabilities is abhorrent and we recognise the wider corrosive impact they have on our communities.
“Our commitment to tackling disability hate crime remains unwavering and there is more that needs to be done to drive up the number of referrals and prosecutions.
“This year, our joint National Hate Crime Conference focused on disability hate crime and we have also held a national scrutiny panel on disability hate crime, with academics in attendance, to help inform our joint approach to improving outcomes for disabled victims of hate crime.
“Our local involvement and scrutiny panels and external consultation group on hate crime continue to enable us to review how we prosecute cases of disability hate crime and to identify future learning and best practice.
“In cases where our legal test is met, we have issued a charge in more than 80 per cent of these and have secured a conviction in 78.8 per cent of all cases.
“We will continue to work closely with police, third sector organisations and communities to build confidence, increase the number of these cases going to court and deliver justice for more victims.”
*The latest Home Office figures do not include statistics for Devon and Cornwall police, which has had problems with a new IT system
**Deaf and disabled people’s organisations
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