Justice Minister David Ford has said that hate crime will only be tackled when the origins of such hatred are addressed.
The Minister was responding to a report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission into the criminal justice system’s response to tackling racist hate crime.
Delivering the keynote address at the event at Parliament Buildings, David Ford said that while he and the criminal justice agencies did not shirk their responsibilities, the criminal justice system is dealing with the manifestations of a problem which exists in our society in general.
The Minister praised the progress that has been made in improving practice and set out his commitment to continuous improvement.
David Ford said: “The criminal justice system has a major role to play in tackling hate crime. Victims of hate crime need the support, professionalism and guidance of a system, where each agency clearly understands their role and delivers on it. I know that has not always been the case. But the improvements have been vast and I welcome that this has been recognised in a number of reports, including the Human Rights Commission report published today.
“The system is working hard to deliver for victims. The PSNI, Public Prosecution Service and the courts are working very closely together and individually to improve.
“By Autumn 2014, we hope to have in place a ‘data capture’ system which will accurately record the flow of hate crime cases through the system enabling agencies to identify issues or areas for improvement.
“The PSNI is also carrying out an ongoing review and sample exercise of hate crime cases to ensure good practice and lessons learned on investigative standards. They are also developing a hate crime toolkit for all officers.
"The new five year Victim and Witness Strategy will also deliver significant improvements such as a requirement for victims to be provided with information at key milestones throughout the criminal justice process and a statutory entitlement to make a written personal statement setting out how crime has affected them."
Turning to the role of others in society David Ford said: “Hate is sadly evident within society. The criminal justice system is dealing with the manifestation of a problem that extends far beyond our remit. There is therefore also a clear role for other Government Departments and indeed wider society to tackle hate crime.
“I welcome the call in this report for the Executive to publish an updated Racial Equality Strategy.
“We need to get to the bottom of what incites people to hate people they deem different from them. That is not to excuse the criminal justice system from getting our part right but we are doing something wrong as a society if our focus is solely on dealing with the aftermath rather than the causes.”
David Ford concluded: “I will now be carefully considering each of the Commission’s recommendations in the context of my Department’s Community Safety Strategy which sets out my vision of a safer, shared, confident Northern Ireland. My officials will also be meeting with the Commission to discuss this report in more detail.”
Notes to editors;
1.The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s report - ‘Aggravated by Racial Hostility: Human rights and the criminal justice system' contains 29 recommendations to assist addressing racist hate crime and draw together the legislative framework and partnership working required by criminal justice agencies to delivery the duties to prevent, prohibit, prosecute and protect.
2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has a statutory requirement to review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.