Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has rejected calls for misogyny to be made a hate crime and defended the Government’s decision to establish a non-statutory inquiry into the Sarah Everard case.
The Deputy Prime Minister suggested that dealing with hatred towards women is an issue of enforcing existing laws rather than creating new offences, adding that criminalising “insults with a sexist basis” would not deal with the wider problems.
The murder of Ms Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens has put issues around women’s safety in the spotlight and Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced an independent inquiry to look at the case.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to reject the idea of creating a specific offence of misogyny and Mr Raab echoed that view.
“I think we have often seen, in the criminal justice system over decades, people trying to legislate away what is an enforcement problem,” he told BBC Breakfast.
He said misogyny is “absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man”.
Misogyny is hatred aimed at women, not men, and Mr Raab was questioned about his comment.
“What I meant was, if we are talking about things below the level of public order offences of harassment, intimidation, which are rightly criminalised – if we are talking about, effectively, insults with a sexist basis, I don’t think that criminalising those sorts of things will deal with the problem that we have got at the heart of the Sarah Everard case,” he said.
Mr Raab added that “criminalising insulting language – even if it’s misogynistic – does not deal with the intimidation, the violence and the much higher level of offence and damage and harm that we really ought to be laser-like focused in on”.
The inquiry into Ms Everard’s case announced by Ms Patel will be made up of two parts – the first examining Couzens’ previous behaviour and whether warning signs were missed during his time in the police.
The second will look at any specific problems raised by the first part of the inquiry, which could include wider issues across policing – such as vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.
Couzens was a serving Metropolitan Police officer at the time he kidnapped, raped and murdered the 33-year-old marketing executive in March.
He had been linked to a flashing incident in 2015 and two others just days before he killed Ms Everard.
Mr Raab said the review will examine why “red flags” such as the flashing incidents were not taken more seriously and will also look at “systemic issues, cultural issues” within the police.
He claimed witnesses will co-operate with the inquiry despite the probe’s lack of powers.
The Home Office said a non-statutory inquiry will be established, given the “need to provide assurance as swiftly as possible”, but this can be converted to a statutory inquiry, where witnesses can be compelled to give evidence, if required.
“I think what people want is to get cracking on this as soon as possible and to get to the truth,” Mr Raab told Sky News.
“This needs to be looked at robustly, vigorously, without fear or favour. I do also think that the police as a whole, the vast majority of officers, are appalled by this and want to get those answers too.”
He added: “We are not going to have a problem getting to the truth of this.”
Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse seized on Mr Raab’s apparent confusion over the meaning of misogyny.
She said: “It’s little wonder the Conservatives are failing to tackle misogyny when their Justice Secretary doesn’t even seem to know what it is.
“These comments are an insult to the millions of women and girls impacted by misogyny and show just how out of touch the Conservatives are on this issue. “