Victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system, and progress to improve their experience of reporting offences has been too slow, an independent report has found.

A joint inspection of the police, probation and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has uncovered a lack of understanding of what classifies as a disability hate crime and confusion around how this type of offence should be recorded and investigated.

The inspection report, Living in a different world: A joint review of disability hate crime, acknowledged that some progress has been made in tackling disability hate crime, but recommended all agencies must do more to ensure that it is treated on an equal footing with other hate crimes and that victims have the confidence to report crimes.

But the report added that immediate priority for the agencies should be to encourage more people to come forward to report disability hate crime. The under reporting of disability hate crime remains a significant concern and needs to be addressed. In 2011, 2,095 disability hate crimes were reported, up from 1,569 in 2010, according to figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The inspection found a lack of clarity and understanding as to what constitutes disability hate crime and confusion between policy definitions and the statutory sentencing provision contained within Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The report recommends a common definition that is universally recognised and applied at ‘ground level’ that is simple to interpret.

It also said that while community engagement projects are currently undertaken by the police and CPS, these need to be jointly co-ordinated and have specific aims.

Inspectors also found that:
• Many police forces do not have an approach that supports disabled victims from the point of call through to the case being considered at court, and that there were gaps in identification, communication and partnership working which all contributed to limitations in how these victims are dealt with
• CPS lawyers display a lack of clarity in identifying and analysing offences, and sometimes fail to obtain sufficient evidence from the police in order to identify disability hate crimes
• Disability hate crime must have a higher priority with the work of the probation trusts, and they should address needs of offenders who have committed disability hate crimes.

Chief inspector of the CPS, Michael Fuller QPM, said on behalf of all inspectorates: “This report finds that in many ways disability hate crime is the hate crime that has been overlooked. The criminal justice system must therefore change to provide an improved service for those with disabilities.”

Emma Harrison, Mencap’s assistant director, said: “[This] review highlights that victims of disability hate crime continue to be let down at every stage of the criminal justice system. 

“While we have seen real progress from police forces in some areas, Mencap still hears from too many disabled victims who feel that their reports are not taken seriously or acted upon, and who do not feel supported when giving evidence. 

“High profile deaths of disabled victims like Fiona Pilkington and Stephen Hoskin have highlighted the tragic consequences of hate crime when it is ignored by those with the power to stop it.

“We welcome the review’s recommendation that the police, probation and Crown Prosecution Service must work together to address these serious and continued failings.”