Hate Crime

What is a hate crime?

Hate crimes violate the dignity and equal treatment of members of our community. 

Hate crime is a general term used to describe offences which are motivated by hostility or bias on the basis of race, religion (including sectarianism), sexual orientation, transgender or disability. There is no legal definition of hate crime but it is generally accepted as being “any incident which constitutes a criminal offence perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by prejudice or hate towards a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or disability”.

Hate crime normally falls into two types:

  • offences committed with a prejudice, hostile or hateful motivation towards the victim, or 
  • conduct which is intended to, or is likely to stir up hatred or arouse fear

These crimes can have a significant impact on both the victim and the group that victim is part of, as it is an attack upon a victim’s personal or presumed personal attributes or group identity such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

The protection of victims and ensuring that offenders are brought to justice are important to PPS. We are committed to dealing effectively with cases of hate crime and apply our Hate Crime Policy to all cases. You can read the Hate Crime Policy by clicking the link. 

Who can be a victim?

Anyone can be the victim of a hate crime, because the offending conduct is targeted at a person’s actual or perceived race, religion sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.

There is no specific offence of hate crime. The offences arising can occur in many different ways – through both random and targeted attacks, incidents that take place in  private or in public, and in the form of attacks on the individual or their property. The prosecutor will choose the charge that best reflects the circumstances of the case.

Hate crime covers a range of offending including, but not limited to, the following:

  • verbal abuse
  • abuse via social media 
  • assaults
  • harassment
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • criminal damage

When is a crime a hate crime?

Where a victim perceives (believes) that an incident has been motivated by the suspect’s prejudice or hate towards them because of a personal characteristic (race, religion, sexual orientation transgender identity or disability), PSNI and PPS will treat that as a hate crime. Even if there is no direct evidence to prove that it is a hate crime, it is the victim’s perception that matters for present purposes. The categorisation of an incident as a hate crime at this early stage has consequences in terms of how the PSNI and PPS record and progress the case. It does not however, impact, upon how the case is ultimately treated by the courts.

Offences aggravated by hostility

Certain hate crimes are also classed as being ‘aggravated by hostility’. For a hate crime to be aggravated by hostility, there must be sufficient direct evidence that the offender was in fact motivated by hostility, rather than the victim simply perceiving that the offence was motivated by hostility. Where this level of evidence is available, the prosecutor can ask the court to treat the offence as being aggravated by hostility and ask the judge to impose an enhanced sentence upon conviction.

The law sets out that an offence is aggravated by hostility if either:

  1. at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after its commission, the offender demonstrates hostility to the victim based on the victim’s membership or presumed membership of a racial, religious or sexual orientation group, or of the victim’s disability or presumed disability; or
  2.  the offence is motivated, wholly or partly, by hostility towards members or presumed members of those groups.

If the Court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence is aggravated by hostility, then it must treat this as a factor that increases the seriousness of the offence, enabling a higher penalty to be imposed.

Other types of offences

The Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 creates some specific offences in relation to the following behaviour which is intended or likely in all the circumstances to stir up hatred or arouse fear amongst a group:

  • the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour
  • the display and distribution of written material
  • other activities

Hatred is defined as hatred against a group of persons in Northern Ireland, defined by reference to religious belief, colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins, sexual orientation or disability.

The Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 creates an offence of chanting at certain sporting matches, and includes conduct arising from chanting of words or sounds that is of a sectarian nature, or consists of or includes content which is threatening, abusive or insulting to a person by reason of that person's colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origins, religious belief, sexual orientation or disability.

Help to give evidence 

We understand that some people feel anxious when they have to attend court to give evidence. If you are a victim of a hate crime, we can apply to the court to grant special measures to help a victim give their best evidence. You can read more about special measures by clicking the link.

A short video has been produced to give a brief introduction into how we work with our partners in the criminal justice system to support victims of Hate Crime. You can watch the video by clicking the link. 

Victim Personal Statement 

We know that hate crimes can have a devastating impact on victims and the wider community.  This statement enables a victim of crime to explain the effect that the crime has had on them. The helps the judge to understand the impact on the victim before deciding the defendant’s sentence. This can include the physical, emotional or financial impact of the crime.

Further reading