1. ITV Report

Courts told to get tough on social media hate crime

15,442 hate crimes were prosecuted last year Credit: PA

Prosecutors have been told to treat hate crime that is committed online the same as offences committed offline.

The policy has been updated due to the mounting numbers of these types of offences committed by those using a keyboard.

In new guidance, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) states: "The internet and social media in particular have provided new platforms for offending behaviour."

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions said it was a priority area because of the "corrosive effect" hate crimes are having on society.

The revised documents cover different strands of hate crime:

  • racist and religious
  • disability
  • homophobic
  • biphobic and transphobic

The CPS says it will prosecute complaints of hate crime online "with the same robust and proactive approach used with offline offending, whilst recognising that children may not appreciate the potential harm and seriousness of their communications" and "treat online complaints as seriously as offline complaints".

Prosecutors have also been told they need to understand the changing nature of internet platforms, while identifying "originators" of abuse as well as "amplifiers or disseminators".

Hate crime prosecutions completed by the CPS in 2015/16

Hateful content on social media sites has repeatedly been highlighted and community groups monitoring anti-Semitic and Islamophobic abuse report that a significant proportion of incidents involve the internet.

The CPS said it has always considered each case on its individual merits and prosecutes offences, whether committed online or offline, where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest.

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.

These documents take 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.

– Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions

The authorities' response to hate crime has come under close scrutiny in the last year amid jumps in the number of incidents.

There was a surge in reports following the EU referendum in June 2016, while figures released earlier this month show forces registered a spike around the terrorist attacks that hit the UK earlier this year.