Equality before the law

This originally appeared in BCN issue 100.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutes criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.  Here, criminal lawyer and homophobic crime specialist Chris Hartley explains how and why the service is talking to bi communities.

When the CPS prosecutes criminal behaviour, it is important for us to build the strongest possible court cases. In order to do this, we rely on the public in two ways. Firstly, we rely on people to be brave enough to come forward as victims and witnesses of crime in the first place. Secondly, we rely on these people to work through the court process with us to help us bring offenders to justice.

However, factors such as fear, confusion and mistrust of the criminal justice service can sometimes prevent people from coming forward to report crime.

This is one reason why we are talking to bi communities. Like any other minority group, some specific crimes are of current concern to the bisexual community – for example domestic violence and hate crime. So what am I and fellow prosecutors doing to address this problem and help make communities safer?

Talking to communities
Earlier this year the Director of Public Prosecutions and leader of the CPS, Keir Starmer QC, announced that prosecutors are becoming community prosecutors. This means lawyers are getting out into the communities where we work to find out the types of crime that cause most local concern. If prosecutors have this knowledge, they can take the public’s views into account in their decisions – for example by attaching a condition to Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBO) banning trouble makers from certain areas.
Getting out of the office also gives prosecutors a chance to explain to the Bi community, and other communities, what the CPS is and how it works, and dispel some of the myths surrounding the criminal justice service.

There are already several successful examples of community prosecutors working in the LGBT community. In August for example, Haringey lawyer Hywel Ebsworth spent a Friday night in London’s West End visiting pubs, shops and cafes known to have customers from the LGBT community. He distributed leaflets about domestic violence and spoke to staff about the role of the CPS in tacking homophobic and transphobic crime. Mr Ebsworth said it was important for victims of domestic violence within the LGBT community to feel that they have the same access to safety, support and justice as everone else.

LGBT Network
Another important way the CPS is talking to the bi community is through our LGBT Network. This staff group was formed in 2002 and has had a really important role within our service ever since.

The idea behind the Network is to provide a point of contact and support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender staff during workplace issues or conflicts. It exists to raise staff confidence by providing a forum where people feel secure, and to advise management on how to create a more inclusive environment where LGBT staff feel comfortable and confident they can progress. The Network also aims to put LGBT staff in touch with each other across the wider civil service, and to advise on prosecution policy changes regarding homophobic, transphobic or domestic violence crimes.

This year the Network devoted part of its conference to a presentation and discussion around awareness of bisexual issues. One of our members has also attended a bisexual community event, to promote the work of the CPS.

Prosecuting hate crime
The CPS regards crime based on hostility towards someone’s sexuality as particularly serious because it undermines people’s right to feel safe about their sexual orientation, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual, and in their gender identity. Such crimes are based on prejudice, discrimination and hate and they do not have any place in an open and democratic society.

When the Director set out his vision for the CPS earlier this year he said: “There is no room for a criminal justice service that favours, or is thought to favour, one section of our community over another; neither is there any room for a service that acts, or is thought to act, in a prejudicial way against any particular group.  Equality before the law lies at the core of the public prosecution service.”

Sadly, it seems that a large number of crimes against the LGBT community are still not reported.  By engaging with the bi community, the CPS wants to increase prosecutions for hate crime by encouraging people to come forward as victims and witnesses.  The Network participates in community engagement events to reassure the bi community that they have equal access to justice, and to ensure the CPS is prosecuting cases of hate crime in every way it can.

A recent prosecution for hate crime came in the North West where the family of a gay man were targeted in their home. The perpetrators followed the victim’s son to his father’s house shouting homophobic abuse, before launching an attack on the family home where items were thrown including a brick and a wooden block. At one stage two defendants went to the back of the house, putting the house under siege. Police were called and nine people were charged with affray, and some also with assault. Two defendants were dealt with in the Youth Court following guilty pleas, and the remaining defendants were committed to the Crown Court for trial, where they later pleaded guilty. A prosecutor specialising in homophobic hate crime led the case, and the judge gave the defendants prison sentences. The judge also noted that the homophobic nature of the attack was an aggravating feature of the case, which increased the sentence.

Report it!
The Bi community is one of many communities the CPS is engaging with to try and raise awareness of, and confidence in, our criminal justice system.

In light of this, I would urge any readers of BCN who have experienced or witnessed any sort of crime to report this to the police and have faith in the fact that the CPS is determined to get justice for every person we serve, no matter what their sexual orientation.

For more information about the CPS visit www.cps.gov.uk or for the LGBT Network visit www.cps-lgbtnetwork.org.uk


In the Civil Service?

The Civil Service Rainbow Alliance, with support from a:gender, has commissioned YouGov to carry out research examining whether or not existing career development opportunities in the UK Civil Service adequately meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) members of staff.

The research, the first of its kind within the Civil Service, will document people’s experiences and make recommendations for improvements as necessary.

If you are a member of staff in the civil service who identifies as LGBT, please take part in our online survey. It is completely anonymous and will take around 10 minutes to complete. The data will be collected and analysed by YouGov. The survey will be online until Friday 4th June.

For more information and to take part, go to [weblink deleted – deadline passed]

Or contact Joe Straw, CSRA Research Officer: [email protected]