Concern expressed at hate crime report
South Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has expressed his concern at a report which revealed that new laws introduced to tackle racist and homophobic bigots is not being used by the courts. The South Belfast MLA has said that this is particularly relevant given that a racist motive is now suspected as a possible motive for an arson attack on Eglantine Avenue.
The South Belfast MLA said:
"It was recently reported in the media that in the first 11 months of 2006 there were over 700 racist crimes reported in the Six Counties. It is believed that many more go unreported.
"Undoubtedly, the issue of hate crime; covering racism, sectarianism and homophobic attacks, is one of the major challenges facing our society today.
"Three years ago a statutory requirement was introduced for judges to treat racial and religious aggravation and hatred of sexual orientation or disability as an aggravating factor when sentencing.
"The report carried out by the CJI (Criminal Justice Inspection) found, however, 'little evidence that the hate crime legislation has been referred to in court prosecutions'.
"The findings of this report causes me great concern. In the past number of years we have seen a large number of attacks which could only be described as 'hate crime' attacks. South Belfast has a growing multi-cultural community and this is be welcomed.
"I am on record as stating that everyone has a role to play in ensuring that we make it clear that racist attacks, hate crimes, are not acceptable in our community. If the judiciary is not giving a lead on this then it sets a bad example for others to follow, and begs the question, how can we expect minorities within our society to have faith in the justice system if the justice system will not act to protect them?" CRÍOCH