A Labour government would change the law to ensure tougher sentences for hate crimes driven by sexual orientation, transgender identity, or disability.
The party has said the changes to existing laws would help make the system more equitable and would help keep LGBT+ and disabled people safer.
Currently, some offences such as assault, public order offences, harassment and criminal damage can be “upgraded” to aggravated offences, with tougher sentencing guidelines, if it is found they were motivated by racial or religious hostility.
If any crime is motivated by someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender status, courts can use enhanced sentencing – in other words, see that motivation as an aggravating factor – but sentencing could not go above that already set out in guidelines for that particular crime.
Therefore while an assault motivated by someone’s sexual orientation may push a sentence to the upper end of the available punishment, an assault based on race or religion could open up the option of tougher, longer sentences.
The issue was identified by the Law Commission in a consultation on reforming hate crimes last year, where it was recognised that “groups who are protected to a lesser degree – notably LGBT and disabled people – argue that this is wrong in principle, and has a damaging effect in practice”.
Victim Support previously said the current set-up results “in the perception that there is a hierarchy of importance when it comes to hate crime”.
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said the party would bring all five protected characteristics under the aggravated offences regime.
The announcement came on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance – which on Saturday remembers those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.
Labour said the latest Home Office statistics revealed police recorded hate crimes based on sexual identity and transgender identity have doubled in the last five years.
Ms Dodds, who is also Labour Party chairwoman, said: “It is totally unacceptable that police recorded hate crimes against LGBT+ people have doubled in the last five years. That’s why, on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Labour is committing to do something to stop it.
“All victims of hate crime have a right to expect equal treatment under the law, but that’s not the case today.
“So Labour will fix this injustice by bringing in tougher, fairer hate crime laws so that every category of hate crime is treated as an aggravated offence – and those who commit hate crimes against LGBT+ and disabled people can no longer get away with softer sentences.”
Home Office statistics show that there were 1,195 hate crimes recorded based on transgender identity in 2016/17, and this rose to 2,630 in 2020/21.
Those based on sexual orientation rose from 8,569 to 17,135 in the same time period.
For race, the figures were 58,294 to 85,268, for disability 5,254 to 9,208, and for religion, 5,184 to 5,627.
Ms Dodds said the Conservatives had “sat on their hands as usual” over the issue.
She added: “Labour recognises that trans rights are human rights. So we would update the Gender Recognition Act to enable a process of self-identification while continuing to support the implementation of the Equality Act, including the single-sex exemption.
“We would ban conversion therapies outright immediately. And we would introduce these vital changes to hate crime laws that we’re announcing today.”