Revised prosecutor guidelines for England and Wales intends to bring parity to the seriousness of online hate crimes as abuse committed on the street.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), will seek sterner punishments for offences committed on major social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, writing for the Guardian, said: “we must remember the common thread that links online purveyors of hate with those who commit physical hate crimes.”
Acknowledging that social media abuse, will, and cannot be prosecuted in the same manner as physical violence, the CPS recognises the deep harm online hate creates.
In 2015, Tell MAMA commissioned academics to look at the experiences of online and street-based anti-Muslim hate, bigotry, and racism. It found individuals fearful that the online abuse would have real-world consequences. Others changed their identity in public. In one example, one Muslim woman would wear a hat to disguise their hijab.
The CPS continues to have strong free speech protections, urging caution on charging individuals under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
The new guidance will give witnesses and victims a better sense of the law.
Cases should carry the same “robust and proactive approach” to street-based crime.
There are some exceptions, however, including cases involving children who may not understand the severity or potential harm caused.
This revised approach will continue to look at ways to identify the ‘agitators’ and ‘disseminators’ of online abuse. For example, to encourage others to tweet or retweet ‘grossly offensive’ messages may fall foul of the Serious Crime Act 2007.
Other examples include the creation of hashtags that may encourage a campaign of harassment.
Hate crime relates to the perception of victims or other individuals when the motivation for criminal offences has demonstrable hostility towards a person’s ‘protected characteristics’ or assumed identity – disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
Online abuse can result in custodial sentences. Timothy Burton, 64, was jailed for 12 weeks in April, after sending anti-Muslim tweets and emails to Tell MAMA’s founder Fiyaz Mughal OBE.
In 2015/16, the CPS completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, its highest-ever total. In that same year, the conviction rate for hate crimes grew slightly to 83.2 per cent. The CPS has also seen an uptake in hate crime sentence uplifts.
Join the conversation with the hashtags ‘#Hatecrimematters’ and ‘#No2h8’.
Members of the public can report anti-Muslim abuse they’ve seen or experienced in confidence via our online form or contact us through Facebook or Twitter.
Hate crime can be reported through 999 in an emergency, by dialling 101 in a non-emergency, directly at a police station, or using True Vision online.