What the law says about hate crime: A guide for students by students

YSJ Law Clinic students Lauren Kelly, Devon Drakes and Jess Matthews have published a blogpost for the University’s Report and Support initiative for Hate Crime Awareness Week 2020. Read more here.

Hate Crime Awareness Week took place between the 10th – 17th October 2020. Even though having a week dedicated to raising awareness about Hate Crime every year is very important, it’s even more important that everybody is aware of what Hate Crime is, and what the implications are, all year round.

Hate Incidents

An action is a hate incident when the victim believes what happened was motivated by hostility or prejudice against the victim, due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or disability.

These aspects of a person’s identity are known as ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010.

Incidents which are based on other personal characteristics, such as age, are not considered to be hate crimes in law. You can still report these, but they will not be prosecuted specifically as hate crimes by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

What actions constitute hate incidents:

  • Verbal abuse, such as name calling or offensive jokes
  • Hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages or hate mail
  • Online abuse through social media
  • Throwing rubbish into a garden
  • Malicious complaints

Not all hate incidents will amount to a criminal offence, but it is equally important to report it so the police can record it and be aware that it is happening within the community.

Hate Crime

When hate incidents become a criminal offence, they are known as hate crimes.

Three main types of hate crime:

  • Physical assault of any kind is an offence. Depending on the level of violence used, the perpetrator may be charged with common assault, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm.
  • Verbal abuse including threats or name calling can be a common type of hate crime. There are laws in place to protect victims from hate crime, so victims should talk to the police if they are unsure whether the verbal abuse they endured would amount to a hate crime.
  • Incitement to hatred occurs when someone acts in a way that is threatening and intended to stir up hatred. This could be through words, pictures, videos, music, and includes information posted on websites. This is enforced under s.18(1) Public Order Act 1986.

The police and CPS agreed on a definition for hate crime that includes ‘any criminal offence perceived by the victim to be motivated by hostility or prejudice’ therefore it is the victim’s perception of the incident that is important.

In England and Wales, the monitored strands of hate crime are:

  • Racially and religiously aggravated
  • Homophobic, biphobia and transphobic
  • Disability

These strands are covered by legislation; sections 28-31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. These sections allow prosecutors to apply for a harsher sentence for those convicted of a hate crime.

There is no legal definition of hostility – therefore, the everyday understanding of the word is used, which includes ill will, spite, prejudice, unfriendliness and resentment.

Racially and religiously motivated hate crime:

The CPS have agreed on the following:

  • It can encompass different concepts including affiliation, belief and practice.
  • It is a protected characteristic which means it is against the law to discriminate against someone based on their religion. It refers to any religion, including a lack of religion

In 2018/2019 police recorded 8,566 hate crime offences related to religion. This accounted to 8% of all recorded hate crimes. Unfounded hostility towards Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims (Islamophobia) was the most reported.

LGBTQIA+ hate crime:

Something is a homophobic or transphobic hate incident if the victim or anyone else thinks it was carried out because of hostility or prejudice based on sexual orientation or transgender identity.

Anyone can be the victim of a homophobic or transphobic hate incident. You can be the victim of a homophobic or transphobic hate incident if someone believes you’re a LGBT person even though you’re not.

If you’ve experienced harassment because of sexual orientation or transgender identity at work, you may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010.

Disability hate crime:

These are often different from other hate offences in that these might be perpetrated by friends, family members or carers.

A disability hate crime is a criminal offence that the victim perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice upon their disability or perceived disability. The victim doesn’t have to be disabled for it to be a hate crime based on disability.

Who can be a victim?

  • Anyone can be the victim of a disability hate crime.
  • You can be the victim of a disability hate crime if someone believes you have a disability even if you don’t.
  • You can also be the victim of a disability hate crime because of your association with somebody who is disabled. For example, a parent of a disabled child.

Statistics for disability hate crime:

  • In 2019/20 7, 333 disability hate crimes were committed. (figures obtained by the charity United Response)

If you’ve experienced acts of hostility or harassment because of disability at work, you may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010.

Examples of successful prosecutions for different strands of hate crime, provided by the CPS:

  1. A defendant entered a shop with his girlfriend where he was racially abusive towards the shopkeeper and struck him with his fist to his chest. CCTV was available, but the video was corrupted. Charges of racially aggravated common assault were brought and at trial, the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment. The sentence was increased by two months for the racial hostility. In addition, a restraining order was granted.
  • A gay couple, and the son of one of the men, were walking through a town centre when they encountered the defendant. The defendant’s language became homophobic and abusive. She was very aggressive and made threats towards both men as well as the child and threatened to report them to the police with false allegations of assault.

The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to a six-month community order, which would have been a fine if it wasn’t for the homophobic aggression.

  • The victim had been involved in a car accident in 1994 which impairs her ability to respond quickly. She also has short term memory loss. The defendant, her husband, systematically belittled her for her disability and assaulted her over a sustained period.

The victim gave evidence through an interview and a live link to prevent her having to face her husband, so the court can offer special measures if they are needed. The prosecutor held that the offending demonstrated a progressive pattern of belittling, undermining and bullying behaviour based wholly on the victim’s disability. This case also shows that anyone can be a perpetrator – even family members.

The defendant in this case was given a 15-month custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years. This would have been 12 months but was increased due to disability hostility. A restraining order of 4 years was also granted.

All three of these successful prosecutions demonstrate the types of behaviour and situations that constitute hate crime, as well as showing how sentences are increased due to the nature of the hostility.

Where to report and find support:

Victimsupport.org can help immediately after a hate crime incident has occurred, or any time after it has taken place. They can listen to victims in confidence, as well as offer information, practical help and emotional support. They can also help you to navigate the criminal justice system if you want to report the crime.

Stop Hate UK is a charity that provides independent and confidential support to people affected by hate crime. They also provide confidential hate crime reporting services in various areas of the UK, including a 24-hour helpline.

You can anonymously report a hate crime to Crimestoppers; however, the police can only play a limited role if they are unable to contact you or access your personal details.


  • Supporting Victims (all hate crime) – https://www.supportingvictims.org/advice/i-or-someone-i-know-is-experiencing-personal-abuse/
  • York LGBT Forum – https://www.yorklgbtforum.org.uk/contact/
  • Tell Mama (anti-Muslim hate crime) –https://tellmamauk.org/contact/
  • Disability Hate Crime Network – https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/independent-living/stop-disability-hate-crime
  • Community Security Trust (anti-Semitic hate crime) – http://dhcn.info/
  • GALOP (anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime) – https://www.galop.org.uk/
  • True Vision (all hate crime). True Vision have an online reporting system, which victims can use if they do not feel comfortable attending a police station. – https://www.report-it.org.uk/contact_us
  • Citizens Advice York – https://www.citizensadviceyork.org.uk/contact-us/
  • In Cymru/Wales: Victim Support (all hate crime) – https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/help-and-support/get-help/request-support

Student Wellbeing:

For York St John students, the University’s Wellbeing service has a Report and Support system where you can report hate crime. All staff, students and visitors can report something anonymously or with contact details so you will get a response. Reports can be about an individual or a group of people.

Wellbeing are also able to offer emotional and psychological support in the Holgate Student Centre and operate a service Monday to Friday within usual office hours. Appointments can be booked at the student information desk or by contacting wellbeing@yorksj.ac.uk.

York St John Law Clinic:

YSJ’s Law Clinic can provide advice for victims of Hate Crime. We can signpost victims to specific organisations who will help with reporting as well as providing emotional and physical support. Please contact the YSJ Law Clinic at lawclinic@yorksj.ac.u.k if you think we could help advise you.

Further information can be found at https://www.cps.gov.uk/crime-info/hate-crime. We found this source very useful when putting the blog together.

Lauren Kelly, Devon Drakes, Jess Matthews, YSJ Law Clinic