Northern Ireland

Eight hate crimes reported in Northern Ireland 'every day'

Window boarded up after racist attack on family home
Image caption Hate crime attacks have forced a number of families out of their homes in Northern Ireland

More than eight hate incidents were reported to police every day last year in Northern Ireland.

The figure is in a new report by the Criminal Justice Inspection into how hate crime is dealt with by the criminal justice system.

It says NI's hate crime laws should be reviewed to consider adding offences outlawed in England and Wales.

The NI chief inspector of criminal justice said the conviction rate for hate crimes was "very low".

"The reality of it is that hate crime does occur very often without witnesses, or certainly people with the confidence to come forward and give their evidence to support a prosecution," said Brendan McGuigan.

"So very often it is left with the allegation which cannot be substantiated."

Mr McGuigan said the rate of reported incidents in Northern Ireland was higher than the equivalent rate in England and Wales, which have additional hate crime powers.

He suggested that the introduction of similar powers in Northern Ireland could improve the response of its criminal justice system to hate crime.

"The report identified that specific statutory offences - such as hate crimes of assault and criminal damage - had been introduced in England and Wales over and above the enhanced sentencing powers that were available in Northern Ireland," Mr McGuigan said.

"I have therefore recommended that the Department of Justice conduct a review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland to establish if change is required and whether the introduction of statutory offences, similar to those in England and Wales, would be beneficial."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Brendan McGuigan said hate crime was a "societal problem"

The PSNI defines hate crime as any offence committed "against an identifiable group of people," when that group identity is "a factor in determining who is victimised".

A victim may be targeted because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or because of their disability.

'Positive steps'

The PSNI said it is "committed to investigating all hate crimes and working with our partners to increase reporting and support victims".

The inspection report praises Northern Ireland's criminal justice organisations for taking "positive steps to improve how they responded to and supported individuals impacted by hate crime".

However, Mr McGuigan said it was a "societal problem that could not be dealt with by the criminal justice system alone".

"Tackling hate crime is an issue which requires leadership from civic society supported by a holistic approach led by wider government," he said.

"That is why I have taken the unusual step of recommending the Department of Justice's (DoJ's) Hate Crime Strategy should be linked to the Northern Ireland Executive's Together: Building United Communities strategy or any future cohesion, sharing and integration policy."

He said this cross-departmental approach could be "monitored and linked to outcome-based accountability measures".

The chief inspector's report urged the Northern Ireland Prison Service to "immediately develop and implement a hate crime strategy".

He also recommended that the PSNI use hate crime-specific scenarios in its training regime, so officers can "understand how best to overcome barriers when interviewing victims and witnesses of hate incidents to achieve the best evidence available".

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