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Prosecuting disability hate crime is "the next frontier", says DPP

The DPP, Keir Starmer QC, is the latest high-profile speaker to speak on campus as part of the series of lectures on 'Issues in Criminal Justice'

Prosecutors are "still in the foothills" when it comes to disability hate crime, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said on Wednesday (2 March) in a speech at the University of Sussex.

Keir Starmer QC warned that thousands of cases go unreported each year, and crimes such as name calling, bullying and harassment of disabled people are not fully understood by the general public and are so widespread they are considered routine.

Calling for a change in society's attitude, he said: "The idea of people being targeted as a victim of crime because of their disability is still relatively new.

"It is not fully understood by the general public and, more surprisingly perhaps, is not always recognised by the victims of such behaviour or by those with responsibility for dealing with it.

"Unless we as a society recognise and confront this issue there is little prospect of more cases coming into the system."

Mr Starmer said that, although a lot of good work has been done, and continues to be done, prosecutors also need to better recognise the needs of victims and witnesses with disabilities.

"Prosecutors may be too ready to assume in some cases that victims and witnesses with disabilities are not reliable enough for a case to succeed or that, even if reliable, that they would not be able to give evidence in a way that would be accepted by a court."

Mr Starmer continued: "Having recognised that victims and witnesses have rights and interests as well as duties we need to ensure that we are listening carefully to what they have to say. To date, victims and witnesses with disabilities have not been well served by the criminal justice system."

Disabled organisations have provided help to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in shaping guidance and policies to ensure that prosecutors deliver an effective and consistent approach across England and Wales.

Read the DPP's speech in full

The DPP is the latest high-profile speaker to speak on campus as part of the series of lectures on 'Issues in Criminal Justice', convened by Professor Stephen Shute on behalf of the Sussex Law School.

In February, Sussex played host to the government's chief legal advisor, the Attorney General. The lecture by the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP looked at how the CPS will evolve in times of austerity, without compromising standards of quality or fairness.

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By: Alison Field
Last updated: Thursday, 3 March 2011