Stella Creasy MP speaking in favour of misogyny becoming a hate crime in the House of Commons.
By a margin of 314 to 190 votes, MPs rejected a proposal to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Citing the 2021 Law Commission review, the Government did not recommend that sex or gender should be added as a protected characteristic to existing hate crime legislation.
The decision caused outrage from leading women’s rights groups, including the Women’s Equality Party who described the bill as “[unable to] effectively address violence against women and girls.”
The Law Commission
As justification, the Government cited responses to their consultation which revealed disagreement as to whether gender, sex or women should be the protected class added to hate crime legislation, with a majority of respondents supporting a gender-neutral framing but with certain groups including Women’s Aid rejecting any hate crime recognition that did not name women specifically.
The 2021 Law Commission review states: “We recommend that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing. “
The review did state a “preferred option” in the case that sex or gender-based hate crime legislation were to be introduced. This suggestion was that if a hate crime for sex or gender was introduced, it should be applied only to laws relating to harassment and abuse in both online and offline spaces in which women are much more likely to experience than men.
The Commons vs the Lords
The amendment introduced in the House of Lords would have made misogyny a hate crime. This would be a new formulation for hate crimes, currently hate crimes refer to five protected characteristics rather than named prejudices, for example, sexual orientation is protected rather than homophobia being named. The characteristics are:
- Sexual orientation
- Transgender status
Nevertheless, no Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs voted against making misogyny a hate crime.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse accused Conservative MPs of “turning a blind eye to the hatred that fuels violence against women.” With Labour MP Stella Creasy saying “I am pleased to hear that he (Minister of State for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse) is concerned for women, but women have had concern for donkey’s years. What we now want is action.”
The classification of a hate crime is used in determining longer sentences for existing offences. The rejected amendment would not have criminalised anything new, but would have increased sentences for some crimes that were deemed to be driven by misogyny. It would also have sent a message that misogyny is on a par with other hate crimes as a target for scorn.
In this case, it seems that campaigners and parliamentarians have overreached in their ambition. However, this defeat is not final. Clearly the Labour Party has different ideas on this issue than the current government, and before the next election campaigners need to reach a consensus as to how to add misogyny as a hate crime or women as a protected class to existing legislation and then convince the Law Commission or MPs in general that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Hopefully this is not a case where justice delayed is justice denied.