This country is built on historic values of unity, inclusivity and mutual respect. Misogyny goes directly against these principles; no one should face intimidation or discrimination. As you will be aware, during the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill’s passage through Parliament, Baroness Newlove tabled an amendment requiring courts to consider hostility towards a victim’s sex or gender as an aggravating factor when deciding the seriousness of cases which are not sexual or domestic offences. I understand that the intention behind excluding sexual or domestic offences is that it would prevent lower sentences for perpetrators.
I am very aware of the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG). The horrific case of Sarah Everard started a much-belated national conversation about the dangers women face at home, on the streets and online. While I welcomed the publication of the subsequent ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’, I believe there is more we need to do to enhance support for victims and survivors of abuse, bring more perpetrators to justice and reduce the prevalence of VAWG in the long-term.
Alongside the work being undertaken to formulate this strategy, the Law Commission – an independent body of legal experts – examined possible reforms to hate crime laws to make them fairer, minimise complexity and address certain challenges. The final report, spanning over 500 pages and developed in consultation with organisations including the Centre for Women’s Justice and Rape Crisis England & Wales, specifically examined the possible recognition of sex or gender in hate crime legislation, the objective of Baroness Newlove’s amendment.
The Law Commission concluded that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing. While I appreciate this is not the outcome you were hoping for, I understand this recommendation was reached after considering including long-standing questions about whether hate crime is an appropriate response to the issue of VAWG and the contested nature of the issue (particularly the matter of including “sex” or “gender”). Summarising this point, Rape Crisis England & Wales said the fact “that there is a need to exclude serious VAWG offences arguably adds evidence to the argument that a hate crime framework is not suitable for VAWG”.
The Commission also indicated that broadly including sex or gender in hate crime laws, but specifically excluding offences associated with VAWG (such as sexual offences and crimes committed in a domestic abuse context) gave rise to concern amongst stakeholders. Namely, that “the exclusion of VAWG offences might be perceived as denying the potential for these offences to be understood as misogynistic; it may be tokenistic for the law to apply in certain contexts such as harassment and online abuse; it would create added complexity in hate crime laws, when greater simplicity has been one of the key calls for reform; and it would undermine the wider aim of treating protected characteristics consistently in hate crime laws”. For these reasons, I feel unable to support Baroness Newlove’s amendment when the PCSC Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Despite the Law Commission's recommendation that the hate crime framework is not the most appropriate vehicle to tackle VAWG, I am encouraged that it did recommend providing greater protection on the basis of sex and gender, including by extending the offence of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender. This aims to tackle the rise of extremist misogynist “incel” ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending. It also recommended that the Government review the need for a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment.
The Government will now consider and respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in due course. While I appreciate that the Commission's conclusions do not recommend making misogyny an act of hate crime, I am glad that its considered findings will inform future Government policy.