Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime lead wants to listen, learn and regain trust of LGBTQ+ victims

Lionel Idan

The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) hate crime lead Lionel Idan is determined to increase LGBTQ+ trust in the criminal justice system, and to “demonstrably show that we are listening”.

The UK’s LGBTQ+ community has a long-held and unsurprising mistrust of both the police and the criminal justice system, and recent events like the Stephen Port tribunal and revelations about homophobia and racism within the Metropolitan Police have cemented these fears.

In recent years, several actions by the CPS specifically have also eroded trust –  in 2020, it withdrew its LGBTQ+ bullying and hate crimes schools pack, which aimed to protect queer students, after pressure and the threat of legal action from anti-trans pressure groups.

Although an attempted judicial review arguing that the CPS’ membership of LGBT+ charity Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme made the service biased was thrown out by a High Court judge last year, later in 2021 the CPS withdrew from Stonewall’s programme anyway.

Idan, who joined the CPS in 2005 and worked his way up to become chief crown prosecutor for London South, has been the service’s hate crime lead for around a year.

He is hoping that this can start to break down barriers and build up trust, especially for queer people, and told PinkNews: “It’s one thing to listen and learn from communities. It’s another thing to demonstrably show that we are listening.”

He said: “I embarked in November on a series of one-to-one conversations with support groups, including [anti-LGBTQ+ abuse charity] Galop. I also think it’s important to hear not only the London perspective, so I’ve got meetings in for the Northeast… right through to the Southwest, to hear from people with lived experience. And that’s key to me.”

Hate crime panels are also run, he said, where the CPS, the police and the community can come together to analyse previous cases, either “where we decided not to charge or police decided not to refer”, so that lessons can be learned.

For Lionel Idan, those lessons span from learning about terminology and the damage that comes with deadnaming victims, to understanding the reasons that LGBTQ+ people might withdraw from cases, and the importance of an evidence-based approach so that a case can proceed even without the victim.

He said: “There’s so much we’ve learned from the community, the barriers to reporting, understanding those issues of trust.

“I didn’t realise, for example, that a lot of people in the transgender community are scared of using the tube because of a real fear of being pushed onto the tracks.

“So you might wonder, if you had a case, why did the victim take a different route? Well, that’s because they’re scared of the tube. Understanding that context [is vital]. And if you can bring that to life for a jury or a judge or a bench, that’s key, because we need to help them understand the experience of the victim in order to make the right decision.”

Understanding queer lived experience is ‘crucial’ when looking at anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime

Lionel Idan’s journey of understanding the complexities of hate crime and the lived experiences of marginalised groups, especially LGBTQ+ folk, can be traced back to his early career with the CPS, when he started to take part in more community engagement.

“All it takes is for you to meet one or two hate victims to really feel that pain,” he said.

“I remember one of my early experiences, it must have been 2006, I met with the chair of my local transgender advocacy group,” Idan continued.

“She told me a story which maybe was the turning point, which really made me think about the way we do things in a different light.

“She was about 60 or 70 years old at the time, and she said, ‘Lionel, back when I was younger, I couldn’t walk into a shop and buy women’s lingerie. And so I used to have to steal items off of clotheslines. Now, what would you have done? If a case involving me had come onto your desk?’

“I said, ‘Of course, I’d have prosecuted you.’ And she said, ‘There you go. Now, you know the context. I had to steal, not because I’m a thief, but because I couldn’t buy what I needed for my identity.’

“That was one of the moments where I realised, in the job I do, that to better understand lived experience is absolutely crucial.”

The Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime lead is happy more people are reporting, but admits: ‘Hate crime is on the increase’

The number of anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes being reported in the UK has shot up over recent years.

“You’re getting more people reporting, which is good,” said Lionel Idan.

“But if you look across hate crime generally, not just against the LGBTQ+ community, that’s [also] gone up in terms of reporting, so there might be social dynamic. We saw with Brexit and things that were happening around that time, that any difference seem to be attacked.”

He added: “I do hope that part of it is due to confidence in reporting, although I take the community’s point entirely that there are barriers to reporting, a lack of confidence in being supported, a lack of confidence in being believed.

“Sadly, I think hate crime is on the increase, I think that’s the bottom line.”

Idan’s “plea” to the LGBTQ+ community is: “Please, please report because we know for perpetrators of hate crime, often it’s not a one-off, it’s probably a repeat pattern. And that person may have done it to other people, and will do it to other people.

“So please report because we might be able to interrupt that behaviour… You might be helping somebody else who cannot come forward.”

He continued: “There are people who are genuinely passionate, genuinely onside, genuinely want to support you and genuinely want to keep you safe. That’s my key message, please report.

“If you do report, there are things we can do. We can’t promise the world, but one thing we can do – depending on your needs, your risks, your fears – is that we can put in place special measures.

“We can have a screen, literally a physical screen, whereby the perpetrator can’t see you. We can have video from elsewhere, so the perpetrator is not even in the same room. We can speak to the court to make sure there’s a separate entrance for somebody to arrive in and then leave from.

“There is a service at a court that supports victims, we can have a pre-court meeting for you. [For example] if I’m prosecuting, you can meet me in advance, we can take you around the courtroom, show you where you will give evidence, make you feel comfortable.”

Lionel Idan is determined to keep learning, not just on panels and in community groups, but from individuals: “We want to hear when you have a bad experience, we want to learn about it so that it doesn’t happen again.

“If you don’t agree with a decision we’ve made, you can ask us for a victim’s right to review and we will review it independently.

“There are mechanisms in place to make sure that we get the right outcome for victims of hate crimes.”