Campaigners hope a new government green paper could finally herald the end of the “outrageous” disparity between sentences for disability and other hate crime murders.
Someone found guilty of a race hate murder, or one based on hostility to religion or sexuality, faces a “starting tariff” – which could be increased or lowered due to other factors – of at least 30 years in prison.
But under schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, someone found guilty of a disability hate crime murder faces a starting tariff of just 15 years.
The discrepancy was highlighted last month with the sentencing of Martin Mather, who was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating a disabled man to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales.
Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime. Mather will serve at least 17 years in prison.
Campaigners have long called for the government to address this sentencing discrepancy.
This week, the Ministry of Justice published a new green paper, Breaking the Cycle, which includes a pledge to tighten the law on hate crime.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The government is looking to strengthen efforts to prevent hate crime and punish offenders.
“Schedule 21, which provides guidance to the courts on determining the minimum term for a life sentence for murder, will be considered as part of this public consultation.”
Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said the commitment to look at the sentencing disparity was “very welcome”, although the government had yet to say exactly what measures it would introduce.
She added: “I felt outraged when I found out about [the disparity]. For years and years we have been saying about this inequality and waiting for it to be changed. Even the CPS didn’t know why it was like that.”
The green paper also lays out plans to divert more offenders with mental health conditions away from prison and refer them instead to health services, through a new national liaison and diversion service.
To respond to the consultation, which ends on 4 March 2011, visit: http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/breaking-cycle-071210.htm