Has justice been served ? – The case for increased use of Section 146, Criminal Justice Act 2003 by Rose Simkins, Chief Executive, Stop Hate UK

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Clare Humble, 50, from Bedlington, was convicted in 2014 of murdering her disabled partner Peter Hedley in a violent and sustained attack. She was jailed for life last week at Newcastle Crown Court and was told that she will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison. Many views have been expressed about this case by various organisations saying that the murder was not treated as a Disability Hate Crime and if it had been, Humble may have had to serve a minimum of at least 30 years in prison.

It may be that this legal case has highlighted a misapplication of the principles of S.146[1] which may have resulted in the sentence being unduly lenient – but the truth is we don’t know that this is the case.

Murder is the most serious crime that exists in law but what is lacking in our criminal justice system about Hate Crime is transparency. We believe it is in the public interest that people know on what basis someone has been sentenced. Generally, our system provides for open justice but it is not possible to sit in on every court hearing.

Stop Hate UK therefore call on the Crown Prosecution Service and the Judiciary to routinely make sentencing remarks publicly available in cases of Hate Crime or cases that involve a victim with a protected characteristic.

We believe this is the only way in which members of the public can properly scrutinise whether cases have been properly treated as such.

In our response in 2013 to the Law Commission[2] consultation on extending the existing provisions for Hate Crime offences we called for these changes and I refer the reader to this report particularly paragraph 40, 50 and 73 which are paraphrased here

  • Prosecutors should state, from the outset, that they intend to present a case as a S.146 case – or at the earliest opportunity, as the case proceeds.
  • We believe this reform should happen regardless of whether a new aggravated offence on the basis of disability is introduced.

We accept that not every crime against a disabled person is based on hostility because of that aspect of their identity. However, we are concerned that too many cases, where the motivating factor is hate based on the victim’s disability, are being considered based on the victim’s apparent vulnerability rather than their disability.

[1] Section 146 (S.146) Criminal Justice Act 2003. Where the offender has demonstrated hostility because of the victim’s disability or presumed disability or has carried out an act motivated by hostility towards a person’s disability or presumed disability, the court must treat these circumstances as an aggravating factor and must state in open court that the offence was committed in such circumstances.

[2] The link is to our full response is here Stop Hate UK’s Response to the Law Commission