Judges in crack down on hate crime as 53 Northern Ireland thugs get enhanced sentences
More than 50 criminals convicted of hate crimes last year had their sentences increased by a judge due to the seriousness of the offence.
As recorded hate crime across Northern Ireland continues to rise, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has revealed that judges used enhanced sentencing powers to increase sentences in 53 cases where the offender was proven to have been motivated wholly by racial, religious or sexual hostility.
Throughout 2013/14 the PPS prosecuted 403 people for a hate crime out of 807 people referred for prosecution, according to the PPS statistical bulletin on hate crime.
The majority of those defendants (383) were dealt with in the Magistrates and Youth Courts. Convictions were secured in 67% of cases.
A total of 36 suspects were dealt with in the Crown Court, where the conviction rate was 94%.
Director of the PPS Barra McGrory said the statistics show that the work being carried out by the PPS and the criminal justice system in tackling hate crime is producing results.
"We are listening to the victims of hate crime, and those who work with them, about the impact that such offences have on the lives of individuals," he said.
Mr McGrory added: "The conviction rates being recorded are very reassuring. They show that the information we receive from the police, and the files we prepare, build a strong case for prosecution and that helps send out a message that hate crime will be dealt with in the strongest possible terms."
However, the QC admitted that "there is still work to be done".
There has been concern over the rise in hate crime, particularly race hate crime, across Northern Ireland.
A racist hate crime was reported every three hours on a typical day in the province last year. The number of incidents increased by a third, with assaults and threats to kill among the offences.
Compared with the previous year, there were increases across all but one of the six hate incident types recorded in 2014/15 - racist incidents increased by 374 from 982 to 1,356 and racist crimes increased by 230 from 691 to 921.
This year's Northern Ireland Policing Plan aims to boost reporting of hate crime by 3%, so this figure is likely to increase next year, police have said.
The Polish Government recently expressed concern at an upsurge in racist attacks against citizens living in Northern Ireland.
Honorary consul Jerome Mullen accused Stormont's political leaders of not doing enough to tackle the problem.
In Belfast alone, racist hate crime doubled last year, with six attacks reported every week across the city.
More than 300 racist attacks were reported during that time. Several families were forced to flee, while others were left prisoners in their own homes, afraid to open the door.