Director of Public Prosecutions: We are determined to take anti-LGBT hate crimes seriously

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Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales, writes for PinkNews as the Crown Prosecution Service undertakes a public consultation on its approach to homophobic and transphobic hate crime.

Without question, laws which relate to the rights of gay and transgender people have undergone profound change in recent decades.  Campaigners have rightly celebrated the huge strides made towards greater equality.

As the Crown Prosecution Service marks its 30th birthday, I’ve been reflecting on how different things are. In October 1986 the CPS became fully operational across England and Wales – a new, independent prosecuting authority brought about by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. Before that, the police had the last word over which cases went to trial.

I have been with the CPS since the start and one of the most striking things as I look back, is how our work has changed along with major shifts in the values and beliefs held by the society we serve.

As attitudes, technologies and political realities evolve, old offences fall away and new offences emerge. For the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system, it needs to keep pace with changes in social norms as well as legislative changes.

It seems almost unbelievable now, for instance, that until 25 years ago, no-one could be prosecuted for marital rape. It simply wasn’t recognised in law.

Society’s attitudes on a raft of major issues have changed immeasurably since 1986, but few areas has seen such striking progress as gay and trans rights, with milestones including equality in age of consent, civil partnerships and, most recently, gay marriage.

It’s telling that no official statistics exist to tell us the extent of homophobic hate crime at that time – the data only goes back as far as 2004, with transphobic hate crime being recorded as a separate category from 2013. The lack of data does not disguise that, for many gay people, discrimination and hostility was all too real.

For most LGBT people, wider society is a very much more welcoming place these days, but as our latest Hate Crime Report showed earlier this year, there is much still to do. In 2015/16 we prosecuted 1,439 cases of homophobic and transphobic hate crime, a rise of 12 per cent on the previous year, with a conviction rate of 83.0%.  

It’s impossible to know if that reflects a rise in actual offences, better recognition of these types of crimes by victims, the police and the CPS, or a bit of both.

From our point of view, we now work very closely with police to ensure that hate crimes of all kinds are recognised and dealt with as such at the earliest opportunity.

This provides reassurance to victims that the severity of the crime committed against them is being acknowledged, and, ultimately, can lead to the offender being given an increased sentence. Hate crimes attract an additional penalty when we can provide evidence of hostility based on the victim’s gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability.   

But we know that we can still do more, and we want to involve interested parties in shaping our policies and how we work.

We recently launched a public consultation on how we deal with homophobic and transphobic hate crime. You can find our draft policy here.

This will run alongside consultations on crimes against disabled people and racial and religiously aggravated hate crime until 9 January.

Consultations play a crucial role in keeping our guidance relevant and our prosecutors well-equipped to deal with modern crime.

We need the comments and opinions of communities and individuals affected by hate crimes to help us inform the way we deal with such cases in the future. We are very keen to hear from members of the LGBT community, from hate crime victims, campaigners, community groups, witnesses and friends.

This is an issue that we are determined to tackle and the voice of the LGBT community needs to be heard. I would urge anyone who feels they can contribute to make their views known.