Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Ninth Report

1  Introduction

1. 'Hate crimes' are offences committed against people and property on the grounds of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political opinion or disability.[1] These crimes take different forms, including verbal abuse, physical assault, intimidation and damage to property. While the more extreme manifestations of sectarian hate crime have subsided since the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 10 April 1998,[2] the rate of racist and homophobic hate crime appears to be rising, and this is reflected in its growing media profile.[3]

2. Against this troubling background, we launched an inquiry in February 2004 into "Hate Crime in Northern Ireland" specifically to:

  • explore the reasons for the reported increase in crimes and incidents motivated by hatred within and between the communities in Northern Ireland
  • examine the effectiveness of measures taken by Government and relevant agencies to tackle prejudice, and to support the victims of such prejudice, and
  • assess the effectiveness of the existing law and proposed changes to that law.

'Hate Crime': the Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

3. Immediately prior to the announcement of our inquiry, the Government published its proposal for a draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order containing measures to "deal with crimes based on hostility of race, sectarianism, and sexual orientation".[4]

4. As a key reason for our inquiry was to assess the adequacy of the legislation dealing with hate crime in Northern Ireland, we took the opportunity of the publication of the Government's proposal for hate crime legislation both to consider some legal aspects of the inquiry, and to subject the proposed Order to detailed scrutiny.[5] We heard evidence on 14 May 2004, and reported almost immediately on 21 May.[6] We welcomed the Government's decision to accept the main recommendation of our report 'Hate Crime': the Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 that the proposed draft Order to deal with 'Hate Crime' should be amended to afford the same protection to people with disabilities as for crimes based on hostility of race, sectarianism and sexual orientation.[7] The legislative aspects of the inquiry are dealt with in Chapter 4 below.

5. We wish to thank all those who have contributed to our inquiry, particularly those who have made written and oral submissions. To encourage wide participation, the Committee commissioned the Hansard Society to provide an electronic consultation through a moderated web-based forum which provided a number of useful contributions.[8] Throughout our work we benefited from the advice of our Specialist Advisers, Dr Neil Jarman and Professor Colin Knox.

6. We have no illusions that hate crime will be dispelled overnight. However, if Northern Ireland is to establish a fully normal society these despicable and brutal attacks must cease. It is up to the Government, the churches, the institutions of civil society, and every single individual in their daily lives, to take collective responsibility for ensuring that these appalling activities are eradicated by all means possible.

1   PSNI definition: Back

2   Deaths due to the security situation have dropped from 54 in 1994/95 to 7 in 2003/04, Police Service of Northern Ireland 2003-2004 Report of the Chief Constable p 14 Back

3   BBC news, 17 January 2005, Campaign to highlight hate crime; Irish News, 18 January 2005, Police Investigating two separate 'hate crimes'; Newsletter, 20 January 2005, Rallying to Fight Racism Back

4   Explanatory Memorandum, Proposal For A Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, Northern Ireland Office, 9 February 2004, Part 1 Back

5   Explanatory Memorandum, Proposal For A Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, Northern Ireland Office, 9 February 2004, Part 1 Back

6   Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Fifth Report of Session 2003-04, 'Hate Crime': the Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, HC 615 Back

7   Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session 2003-04, 'Hate Crime': The Draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 - Government Response, HC 954. The Criminal Justice (No 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (2004 No.1991 (N.I.15) was made on 24th July 2004 and came into force on 28 September 2004 Back

8   The Hansard Society worked in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and Queen's University (e-consultation study group) Belfast. The e-consultation ran for eight weeks from 1st September until 22nd October 2004 and attracted 42 messages (some from multiple contributors). See Appendix 1 Hansard Society Online Consultation on Hate Crime in Northern Ireland: Summary Report, October 2004 Back

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Prepared 14 April 2005