The government’s law reform body has resisted calls to make ‘misogyny’ a hate crime. The Law Commission yesterday recommended that ‘sex or gender’ should not be added to the five protected characteristics (race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity)which can receive a sentence uplift on the basis that it would be ‘ineffective’ at protecting women and girls and, in some cases, ‘counterproductive’.
The justice minister Dominic Raab recently rejected the idea that misogyny should be a hate crime. ‘Misogyny is absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man,’ he told BBC Breakfast. Misogyny, of course, refers to a hatred or prejudice towards women.
A statement by 20 women’s rights groups and campaigners including the Fawcett Society, Citizens UK, Stella Creasy MP, and Rights of Women accused the Law Commission of failing to address ‘widespread concerns about lack of action by the criminal justice system’ and complained that its review was ‘too narrow’. ‘By not joining together hate crime legislation, it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too often are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick boxes,’ the statement read.
The Law Commission argued that adding ‘sex or gender’ could make it more difficult to secure convictions and ‘create unhelpful hierarchies of victims’. The group added: ’However, if these contexts were excluded, it would make misogyny very much the poor relation of hate crime laws, applicable only in certain, limited contexts.’
The Law Commission called for safeguards for freedom of expression including ‘explicit protection’ for gender critical views and a new protection for ‘neutral reporting’ of inflammatory hate speech. The group recommended extending existing offences of stirring up hatred to cover incitement of violence and hatred on grounds of sex. It has also made recommendations to ensure that disabled and LGBT+ victims receive the same protections as victims with other protected characteristics (race and religion). ‘If enacted, the reforms would ensure all five characteristics are protected equally by the law,’ it says.
The Commission is also making a number of recommendations to protect women and girls. This includes extending the offence of stirring up hatred (behaviour that incites others to hate entire groups) to cover sex or gender and has recommended that the government consider the need for a new offence to tackle public sexual harassment.
Hate crime refers to existing criminal offences (such as assault, harassment or criminal damage) where the victim is targeted on the basis of hostility towards one or more of the five characteristics (race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity). There are two ways that the law currently treats hate crimes as more serious than other offences. As aggravated offences, separate versions of existing criminal offences, carring higher maximum penalties; and through enhanced sentencing. In 2020/21, there were 10,679 prosecutions and 9,263 convictions for hate crimes in England and Wales.
The Law Commission argues that the hate crime framework does not protect all five protected characteristics to the same degree. For example, aggravated offences only apply in respect of racial and religious hostility whilst the stirring up offences don’t cover disability or transgender identity. ‘This current hierarchy of protection is widely seen as unfair and sends a distinctly negative message to victims of hate crimes on the basis of disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity,’ the group says.
The Commission proposes extending the offences of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender. ‘This would help to tackle the growing threat of “incel” ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending,’ it says.