Below is a speech given by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, on Disability Hate Crime.
This press release on the speech has been issued by the Crown Prosecution Service:
DPP says prosecuting disability hate crime is “the next frontier” for the Criminal Justice System
Prosecutors are “still in the foothills” when it comes to prosecuting disability hate crime, the DPP Keir Starmer QC said today (Wednesday ) in a speech to Sussex Law School 's 'Issues in Criminal Justice’ series at the University of Sussex .
Mr Starmer warned that thousands of cases go unreported each year, and crimes such as name calling, bullying and harassment of disabled people are not fully understood by the general public and are so widespread they are considered “routine”.
Calling for a change in society’s attitude towards these types of offences, he says: “The idea of people being targeted as a victim of crime because of their disability is still relatively new. It is not fully understood by the general public and, more surprisingly perhaps, is not always recognised by the victims of such behaviour or by those with responsibility for dealing with it.
“Many disabled people do not appreciate that constant name calling, mimicking and bullying which often escalates to more serious forms of harassment and violence are criminal activities. That may be because such behaviour is so widespread as to be considered routine.
“Unless we as a society recognise and confront this issue there is little prospect of more cases coming into the system and we will have missed a valuable opportunity to tackle this important area.”
Mr Starmer said that although a lot of good work has been done, and continues to be done, prosecutors also need to better recognise the needs of victims and witnesses with disabilities.
“Evidence from some voluntary sector organisations and [a high court ruling two years ago] suggest that prosecutors may be too ready to assume in some cases that victims and witnesses with disabilities are not reliable enough for a case to succeed or that, even if reliable, that they would not be able to give evidence in a way that would be accepted by a court.”
Mr Starmer continues: “Having recognised that victims and witnesses have rights and interests as well as duties we need to ensure that we are listening carefully to what they have to say.
“To that end, we continue our work with colleagues in the criminal justice system and the voluntary and community sectors at national and local levels to develop best practice, and we will regularly review our policies in this area to ensure that we offer the best possible service to the disabled community. We should not underestimate the task ahead, and, as I have already said it is for society, too, to confront this issue.
“But we would all do well to recognise that, to date, victims and witnesses with disabilities have not been well served by the criminal justice system.”
In October 2010, the CPS launched, in partnership with Mind, a tool kit for prosecutors to help them understand how and when mental distress affects a victim’s evidence, leading to improving outcomes for victims with mental health problems.
Disabled organisations have provided help to the CPS in shaping guidance and policies in place to ensure that prosecutors deliver an effective and consistent approach across England and Wales .