Criminals convicted under tough new hate crime laws will have prison sentences increased by up to one-quarter, thecan reveal.
The Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, which will be introduced by Justice Minister Helen McEntee later today will create new, aggravated forms of criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice.
For example, at present someone convicted of committing assault causing harm can be jailed up to five years. Under the new laws, should the hate crime conviction apply, the sentence will now be seven years.
Someone who threatens to kill or cause serious harm and is convicted under the non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 can face a maximum sentence of 10 years at present, but under the new laws, this will become 12 years.
The protected characteristics under the bill are: race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability.
The aggravated offences will generally carry an enhanced penalty, compared to the ordinary offence, and the record of any conviction for such an offence would clearly state that the offence was motivated by prejudice - that it was a hate crime.
For example, assault aggravated by prejudice will be a different and more serious offence to ordinary assault, harassment aggravated by prejudice will be a separate and more serious offence to ordinary harassment.
The person who will be charged with the new offence from the outset will be prosecuted for that specific new offence, and if they are convicted, the record of their conviction will reflect that their offence was a hate crime.
The kinds of crimes which will become aggravated offences under the bill will include: assault, coercion, harassment, criminal damage and threat to kill or cause serious harm or endangerment.
The new offences also carry a provision for an alternative verdict, where the 'hate' element of the offence has not been proven. In such cases, the person can be found guilty of the ordinary version of the offence, rather than the aggravated version.
Ms McEntee secured Government approval to publish the general scheme of the bill this week.
Speaking to the, Ms McEntee said: "Creating these new offences will mean that a crime can be investigated as a potential hate crime by gardaí, and evidence of the hate element can be presented in court.
"Where the jury finds that the crime was a hate crime based on the evidence, and convicts the person of a hate crime, the enhanced penalty for the new offence will be available to the judge at sentencing. Where the jury finds that the hate element is not proven, they will still be able to convict the person of the ordinary form of the offence."