Racially aggravated offences
In recent years legislation has been enacted to ensure that crimes demonstrating a hostility towards certain groups of people are treated more seriously than before.
If an offence is said to be racially aggravated, then you should expect a heftier sentence.
What does it mean?
An offence is racially aggravated if, at the time of the offence, you demonstrate toward the victim hostility based on his membership of a racial group or the offence is motivated by that hostility.
So, shouting racist abuse or making comments, will make an offence racially aggravated, as will the situation where no comments are made but the offence is committed against someone because of their race.
Offences as a result of hostility toward a religious group, rather than racial, are treated in the same way.
The fact that the victim may be indifferent to any abuse is irrelevant to whether the offence is racially aggravated.
It is also irrelevant if the reason for the offence was unrelated to race. For example, abusing a doorman because he wouldn’t let your friend into a club.
How does it affect sentencing?
Each offence in law has a maximum sentence attached to it; for offences that are racially aggravated that maximum sentence is increased. For example, common assault carries six months imprisonment, the racially aggravated offence increases to a maximum of 2 years, for actual bodily harm the maximum sentence increases from 5 to 7 years.
The starting point is to consider the sentence that would have been imposed for the offence if it was not racially aggravated, considering all other aggravating or mitigating factors.
The sentence will then be increased to take account of the racial aggravation.
The extent of the increase in sentence will depend on the level of aggravation. The court will consider whether the offence was:
- part of a pattern of offending;
- deliberately set up to be humiliating to the victim
- committed in the victim’s home
- repeated or prolonged.
Account will also be taken of any distress caused to other persons or the wider community and whether the offender was a member of a group that promotes hostility.
Does it have to be charged as being racially aggravated?
Even if the offence isn’t specifically charged as being racially aggravated the circumstances can be treated as an aggravating feature in sentencing (O’Leary  EWCA Crim 1306).