Watchdog urges hate crime strategy
The damaging impact of hate crime needs to be given greater prominence in the courts, a leading watchdog has warned.
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) published its latest review of how hate crime is handled by the justice system.
It recognised progress since its first report three years ago, but noted that a hate crime strategy has yet to be developed, while more needs to be done to highlight hate crime offences in court.
The CJI said that while hate crime represents less than 2% of recorded crime, racism and sectarianism have wider repercussions for society. As examples, it cited the loyalist murder of Catholic community worker Kevin McDaid in Coleraine last year and attacks on Roma families in Belfast.
Deputy Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said the Inspectorate will urge the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to work to fully achieve CJI's 2007 recommendation that, where evidence exists, all incidents of hate crime are prominently marked on prosecution files and this information is brought to the attention of the court.
He also urged the criminal justice system to implement a process where the use of hate crime legislation is recorded by the PPS and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service so monitoring can occur.
Justice Minister David Ford commended the work so far done by the criminal justice system and the police to tackle hate crime, but added: "However, I am disappointed at the lack of progress on a number of recommendations and it is clear that more needs to be done.
He said tackling hate crime will be "an integral part of the cross-Departmental Community Safety Strategy, which I will be consulting on in the autumn".
Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Jim Scholes welcomed the latest report, saying: "We are continuing to work with our criminal justice partners to fully utilise IT systems to ensure that the identification and recording of hate crime cases is consistent throughout the criminal justice system."
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr also welcomed the report's finding that progress is being made but added: "We will carry on working with our partner agencies to combat hate crime perpetrated against the increasingly diverse Northern Ireland society."