Judges shun calls to increase sentences in race-hate cases

JUDGES appear to be ignoring calls by Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors to give people convicted of offences motivated by racial hatred heftier sentences, according to a CPS report.

The tendency, which flies in the face of Court of Appeal calls for judges to be tougher on racist offenders, is revealed by the CPS's new racial incident monitoring scheme, which published its first report last week.

The report identified 937 occasions between April 1996 and March 1997 when prosecutors drew the racial element of the case they had successfully prosecuted to the attention of the judge hearing the case.

But the judges made a point of publicly stating that the racial factor had influenced his or her sentence on only 181 of those occasions – 20 per cent of the total.

Alan Kirkwood, of the CPS casework services division, said it was impossible to know how many judges had taken racial factors into account without publicly stating it.

But he acknowledged there was a “possibility” that the majority of judges were failing to heed the Court of Appeal's calls for them to hand out tougher sentences to racist offenders.

He said the figures had been passed on to judges during local liaison meetings between the CPS and the courts up and down the country.

The CPS report coincides with a government pledge to introduce a range of new offences dealing specifically with racial harassment or violence.

The new offences will be contained in Home Secretary Jack Straw's forthcoming Crime and Disorder Bill.

Details of the plans are due to be published by Straw in a consultation paper next week.