NI Justice Minister drops plans for stand-alone hate crime Bill

Stormont’s Justice Minister has announced she is abandoning plans for a stand-alone hate crime Bill, but says she intends to incorporate aspects of it into other legislation.

Naomi Long had been expected to publish a Bill based on Judge Desmond Marrinan’s recommendations from 2020, which included a call to remove the ‘dwelling defence’, protecting private conversations in the home from being criminalised.

But she now says there is no time to deliver stand-alone legislation before the next Assembly elections, due in 2027.

Aggravated offences

While some advocates of restrictive hate crime legislation criticised the decision, Long explained that she remains committed to pushing changes through.

She said: “It is precisely because I prioritise hate crime that I have brought forward the most impactful elements of the legislation for victims, to be delivered within this mandate”. She added “there were no intentions” to weaken the provisions that will be made in hate crime legislation.

The Justice Minister intends to prioritise creating ‘aggravated offences’ – allowing tougher sentences where crimes are deemed to be motivated by hostility towards a protected group – and wants to ‘recognise intersectionality’.

She argued that by including these measures in wider legislation, they could be passed and implemented more quickly.

Assembly motion

On Tuesday MLAs debated a motion calling on the Minister to introduce a stand-alone Bill in the next year to implement Judge Marrinan’s suggestions.

But it was instead amended to endorse Long’s plan for “foundational hate crime provisions” in other legislation, and passed overwhelmingly.

However, the Minister indicated her intention that public order offences would still be dealt with in the future, after the next Assembly elections.

‘Fundamentally flawed’

The Christian Institute raised concerns about aspects of Judge Marrinan’s recommendations, in particular that allowing the police to investigate conversations in the home could target discussion on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and gender ideology.

In April it urged the Northern Ireland Executive to decisively ditch its “bad idea” of imposing sweeping changes to hate crime legislation, advising instead to “leave well alone”.

Head of Research Dave Greatorex said: “Although there’s a delay, the Minister is still committed in the long term to something similar to the disastrous Scottish hate crime act. The Scottish experience shows the free speech and religious liberty dangers of this kind of legislation – especially ‘stirring up hatred’ offences.

“The stirring up proposals should be dropped altogether. They’re fundamentally flawed.”

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