London: The UK on Monday issued a new legal guidance saying online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as those committed in person, in the wake of a record country-wide spike in such offences which authorities said had a "corrosive effect" on the society.
The new guidance from Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is marking the publication of the documents with the launch of a social media campaign — #HateCrimeMatters — to encourage people to come forward and report hate crime incidents.
"In recognition of the growth of hate crime perpetrated using social media, a commitment to treat online crime as seriously as offline offences, while taking into account the potential impact on the wider community as well as the victim," reads the new guidance.
"Hate crime has a corrosive effect on our society and that is why it is a priority area for the CPS. It can affect entire communities, forcing people to change their way of life and live in fear," said Alison Saunders, UK's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Saunders said these documents took account of the current breadth and context of offending to provide prosecutors with the best possible chance of achieving justice for victims.
"They also let victims and witnesses know what they should expect from us. I hope that, along with this week's campaign, they will give people the confidence to come forward and report hate crime, in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously and given the support they need," she said.
A hate crime is defined as an offence where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or shows hostility towards the victim's disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
In 2015-16, the CPS completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest number ever as police forces have recorded a UK-wide spike in such crimes.
The conviction rate across all strands of hate crime increased from 82.9 per cent in 2014-15 to 83.2 per cent in 2015-16, the CPS said.
"Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating," Saunders said.
Until now, CPS guidance on hate crime motivated by sexual orientation has had a general focus on all victims.
The new guidance specifically refers to bisexual victims, particularly if they report being victimised by gay men or lesbians.
The CPS consulted community groups and criminal justice representatives to produce revised statements covering the different strands of hate crime: racist and religious; disability and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic.
The revised legal guidance sets out how prosecutors in the UK should make charging decisions and handle such cases in court.