The Government has backed a new bill which will include tougher sentences for aggravated forms of existing criminal offences that are motivated by prejudice.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (pictured) has published the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, which will create new, aggravated forms of some existing criminal offences.
The bill specifies a number of protected characteristics:
- Ethnic or national origin,
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender, and
These have been updated from the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 to add gender, including gender expression or identity, and disability, and to ensure Traveller ethnicity is recognised on the same basis as other ethnicities.
The aggravated offences will generally carry a tougher penalty compared to the ordinary offence, and, if a person is convicted, their record will reflect that their offence was a hate crime.
For example, assault aggravated by prejudice will be a different and more serious offence than ordinary assault.
The kinds of crimes which will become aggravated offences under the bill will include:
- Criminal damage,
- Threat to kill or cause serious harm, endangerment, and other offences.
“Where the jury finds that the hate element is not proven, they will still be able to convict the person of the ordinary form of the offence,” said Minister McEntee.
The proposals also include new offences of incitement to hatred, which cover inciting hatred against a person or persons because they are associated with a protected characteristic, as well as disseminating or distributing material inciting hatred.
The minister said, however, that the bill would respect the constitutional right to freedom of expression and association.