What we now consider to be hate crime is a subject that has long concerned me, both as a lawyer and as an MP. It has absolutely no place in our society and since being appointed Solicitor General I have made tackling hate crime one of my priorities.
Hate crime can have a deep impact on victims with long lasting effects. This is the 21st Century. People shouldn't be living in fear of being targeted because of who they are. These crimes not only affect the victim, they also affect their family, friends, neighbours and the wider community.
Hate crime isn't new. It's been going on for years. We have developed our response to it over time and have some of the toughest laws in the world to protect people, but the police need to know that these crimes are happening, and they need to be reported before action can be taken. While there have been more prosecutions than ever before, there are still many incidents that go unreported and too many victims are suffering in silence.
So what can we do? We need to make sure people are able to recognise when they've been a victim of hate crime and we need to do more to encourage people to report these crimes. A crime has to be reported in order to bring those committing them to justice.
Recognising you are a victim can be particularly difficult for those who are victims of disability hate crime. Often those that have been targeted do not recognise they are a victim so it can fall to those around them to recognise when an incident has occurred and take the appropriate action.
Victims need to have the confidence to confide in those who they trust, whether it is the police, their families, friends, support workers or other professionals; and understand that these issues will be taken seriously.
Work is already going on across the country to tackle these problems, and the Government has already allocated £900,000 to support the many charities and groups working tirelessly for the cause. The next round of funding for hate crime community projects is now open and all information on how to apply can be found here.
I was recently in Carlisle and visited Mencap, who received some of this funding. They have developed a unique teaching programme that explains what disability hate crime is, how to recognise it and where people can go for help and support. It was created by people with learning disabilities, for people with learning disabilities, and I was lucky enough to meet some of the people involved in the project.
Projects like this are a great way to raise awareness and provide practical and emotional support to help those who have reported incidents to the police, and who may have to navigate the often complex criminal justice system.
For those who may not have support from such organisations, being able to access correct, easy to understand and relevant information when needed, is crucial. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is due to publish updated guidance about how they deal with hate crime cases and what support they can provide to victims and witnesses going through legal channels.
The CPS is also looking to refresh the resource packs for schools to educate children on identifying hate crime and they are launching a nationwide campaign to raise awareness.
It is encouraging to see so many positive steps being made, however we must not get complacent. While providing support to those who become victims of hate crime is so very important, that's only dealing with one part of the problem. Prevention of incidents happening in the first place is vital. But until we have a time where hate crime is no longer a problem, those that are committing these atrocious acts need to understand that these crimes will not be tolerated in our society.
Robert Buckland is the Solicitor General and Conservative MP for South Swindon