Judges have been ordered to dish out harsher sentences as LGBTQ+ hate crimes soar across the UK.
New guidelines set out by the judge-led Sentencing Council recommend those found guilty of hate crimes related to sexual orientation and gender identity should be handed at least six months in prison.
They also state the worst cases of intolerance and discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community should be sentenced to six years in prison.
The new instructions for judges come into force on January 1 next year, and come after a surge in hate crimes – the number reported to police has more than doubled since 2013, with 103,379 offences recorded last year.
As reported by the MailOnline, Mr Justice Julian Goose, of the Sentencing Council, said:
Public order is essential for the safe-functioning of society and the law seeks to protect the public from behaviour which undermines this.
He added the guidelines would ensure a consistent approach to prosecution with regards to hate crimes.
While the majority of offences recorded by police forces in England and Wales were racial – with 78,991 crimes recorded – the number of hate crimes related to gender identity and sexual orientation saw a large increase last year.
In 2018, transphobic hate crimes rose by 37%, with 2,333 offences recorded. Offences related to sexual orientation took a 25% hike, with 14,491 crimes recorded.
Judges and magistrates must follow the guidelines to the letter, unless they can prove not doing so would be more appropriate to achieve justice in a given situation. They’re the first to apply to public order offences – including ‘stirring up hatred based on race, religion or sexual orientation’.
Under this public order offence, people can be convicted what they how they act – whether it’s what they say, write, broadcast or post on the internet or social media.
However, the Sentencing Council’s guidelines add the least serious offences – such as a person ‘recklessly’ spreading racial hatred without true intent – should be given community punishments rather than jail time.
According to the BBC, a hate crime is defined as an offence motivated by hostility towards a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.
This includes verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.
As reported by The Guardian, a survey by Citizens UK found seven in 10 people said they never reported hate crimes to the police.
Matthew Bolton, the executive director of Citizens UK, said:
Communities from across the UK are increasingly concerned that we aren’t going fast enough or far enough to strengthen hate crime protections.
Political, media and institutional decision-makers need an action plan to stop the toxic mix of scare stories on social media and a divisive political environment, which is providing a breeding ground for hate.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday. Or email [email protected]