Mark Townsend, Guardian, February 7, 2015
People convicted of homophobic, transgender or disability hate crime would be put on a “blacklist” to warn future employers of past misdemeanours under new proposals by Labour.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will on Monday unveil a strategy to tackle the UK’s soaring rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and abuse of people with disabilities. The package includes making homophobic and disability hate crimes an aggravated criminal offence, ensuring that police treat such offences in the same way as racist hate crimes.
Cooper will outline changes to the criminal records framework whereby such offences will be clearly marked on the criminal records of perpetrators. Currently, records checks do not highlight homophobia, disability or transgender identity as a motivating factor in a conviction, and do not automatically appear in police data used for vetting applicants in sensitive vocations, such as those working with vulnerable people, including the disabled.
Labour’s move comes as a new breakdown of police figures reveals an escalation in hate crimes since 2012, with a steep rise in abuse reported by the transgender community alongside the well-documented rises in antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Measures to combat the role of social media in disseminating and perpetrating hate crime will also be unveiled. These include a review of police and guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that crimes such as antisemitism on social networks such as Twitter are covered. The review follows high-profile online attacks, including abuse targeting prominent British Jews and Muslims.
Hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales reveal a rise across all five recording categories–race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender–with the number of offences rising from 43,927 in the 12 months to April 2013 to 46,919 in the following 12 months.
Last week it was revealed that antisemitic incidents in the UK had reached their highest-ever level, more than doubling in the past year. Incidences of Islamophobia are reported to have risen since the Charlie Hebdo killings. Cooper said: “Hate crimes have no place in modern Britain. No one should fear being attacked because of their religion, their sexuality, the colour of their skin, or their disability. Much more needs to be done to ensure those who commit these serious crimes are brought to justice, and this includes looking at where the law needs to be strengthened.”
Cooper said companies such as Twitter must do more to tackle repeat offenders and monitor individuals who are the target of repeat abuse. On Thursday, Twitter’s chief executive acknowledged that the company “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years”.
The shadow home secretary said: “Too often industry has been slow to respond to reports of their social media platforms being used to bully and abuse people or spread abhorrent ideology.”
Amid the rise in hate crimes, the coalition government has been accused of failing to respond to a Law Commission report on hate crimes that recommends changes to the criminal records system. Labour would introduce programmes in schools to tackle antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobic bullying and targeting of disabled children. “We need to look at what more we can do to prevent discrimination, bigotry and hate taking hold in the first place,” said Cooper.
Between April 2013 and April 2014 hate crimes over race in England and Wales rose from 35,889 to 37,484; offences involving sexual orientation increased from 4,261 to 4,622; and transgender hate crime escalated from 361 to 555–a 54% increase. During the same period, disability hate crimes increased from 1,843 to 1,985, while criminal offences linked to religion grew from 1,573 to 2,273, a rise of 45%.
Labour’s special envoy on LGBT issues, Lord Cashman, said: “These wide-ranging measures will signal to everyone that such behaviour is unacceptable in a civilised society.”