Director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said in a speech yesterday (Wednesday) that prosecuting disability hate crime is the “next frontier” for the criminal justice system.

Speaking at Sussex Law School’s ‘Issues in Criminal Justice Series’ at the University of Sussex, Starmer claimed that prosecutors are “still in the foothills” when it comes to prosecuting disability hate crime. Starmer warned that thousands of cases go unreported each year and crimes such as name calling, bullying and harassment of disabled people are so widespread and frequent that they are considered “routine”.

Calling for a change in society’s attitudes towards these types of offences, Starmer said: “Many disabled people do not appreciate that constant name calling, mimicking and bullying which often escalates to more serious forms of harassment and violence are criminal activities. That may be because such behaviour is so widespread as to be considered routine. “Unless we as a society recognise and confront this issue there is little prospect of more cases coming into the system and we will have missed a valuable opportunity to tackle this important area.”

However, Starmer also acknowledged that a lot of good work had been done by prosecutors, but said that they need to recognise the needs of victims and witnesses with disabilities. “Evidence from some voluntary sector organisations and [a high court ruling 2 years ago] suggest that 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.

“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 that end, we continue our work with colleagues in the criminal justice system and the voluntary and community sectors at national and local levels to develop best practice, and we will regularly review our policies in this area to ensure that we offer the best possible service to the disabled community. We should not underestimate the task ahead, and, as I have already said it is for society, too, to confront this issue. “But we would all do well to recognise that, to date, victims and witnesses with disabilities have not been well served by the criminal justice system.”