Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

CAJ has welcomed the publication of the independent review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. The review, led by Judge Desmond Marrinan, was commissioned by the Department of Justice in 2019.

Among the recommendations of the Review are that NI formally adopts ‘hate crimes’ legislation, which would mean all existing criminal offences could also be hate crimes where there is hate motivation on a protected ground.

Additional recommendations from the review include:

  • Extending the existing protected grounds for hate offences to include sex/gender and age;
  • Further codifying incitement/hate speech offences related to ‘stirring up hatred’;
  • Placing “a clear and unambiguous statutory duty on relevant public authorities including Councils, the Department for Infrastructure and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, to take all reasonable steps to remove hate expression from their own property and, where it engages their functions, broader public space”.
  • Consolidating all hate crime and hate speech law into a new ‘Hate Crime and Public Order (Northern Ireland) Bill’.

The report also makes a number of recommendations on tackling online hate.

Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of CAJ said: “We welcome the publication of the independent review and commend Judge Marrinan and his team for their engagement and work. We look forward to considering the recommendations in detail.

“We particularly welcome the recommendation to extend the protected grounds to tackle misogynistic hate crime and the proposed duty on relevant public authorities to remove hate expression from public space, both of which address particular gaps in the existing framework.”

“We would at the same time caution against opposition to hate crimes legislation based on misconstrued notions of interference in free speech. In general, it is a myth to suggest hate crimes laws police certain religious and other thoughts or views. A hate crime is something that is already a crime – for example putting brick through someone window because they are gay or assaulting someone because of their ethnicity.”

The current law on hate crimes in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland presently does not have dedicated ‘hate crime’ legislation and therefore does not have specific offences set out in law that cover prejudice-motivated crimes. The addition of such offences could act as a powerful deterring signal against these types of crimes and the harm they cause to the broader community. For example, as things currently stand, someone who has committed a racially motivated assault in NI would be prosecuted for ‘assault’, but could not be prosecuted for carrying out a ‘racist assault’ because such a crime is not currently defined by law.

Since 2004, there have been limited provisions for enhanced sentences if a crime is found to be racist, sectarian, homophobic, or disablist, yet there is general consensus such provisions have not worked satisfactorily.

As required by UK human rights obligations, separately NI has had legislation since 1970 to prevent incitement to hatred, i.e. ‘stirring up’ hatred offences. The current NI legislation covers racist, sectarian, homophobic, and disablist incitement to hatred. This offence incorporates incitement to violence (threats) against a protected group.

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator on robyn@caj.org.uk or 075 1994 1203.

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