Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long drops plans for stand-alone Hate Crime Bill, saying three remaining years of Assembly Mandate is not enough time

The SDLP has branded it “odd” that Justice Minister Naomi Long has dropped plans for a stand-alone Hate Crime Bill, as pledged in her party manifesto.
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Naomi Long confirmed in the assembly this week that she has dropped the idea of a stand-alone Hate Crime Bill.

Instead she plans to roll out the legislation through a series of other legislation.

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During Justice Questions in the Assembly on Monday, SDLP Leader of the Opposition Matthew O’Toole MLA pressed the Minister to explain her decision.

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long has dropped plans for a Hate Crime Bill, promising instead that the same measures will be rolled out as part of other pieces of legislation instead. Photo: David Young/PA WireStormont Justice Minister Naomi Long has dropped plans for a Hate Crime Bill, promising instead that the same measures will be rolled out as part of other pieces of legislation instead. Photo: David Young/PA Wire
Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long has dropped plans for a Hate Crime Bill, promising instead that the same measures will be rolled out as part of other pieces of legislation instead. Photo: David Young/PA Wire

He noted that a Hate Crime Bill had been a manifesto pledge from her party.

Naomi Long appointed Judge Des Marrinan to review hate crime legislation in June 2019.

In 2020 he recommended that gender, transgender and age-motivated offences should be added to protected characterises of race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

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He also recommended abolishing the private dwelling defence, which prevents police from investigating alleged hate speech in private homes.

In response, Justice Minister Naomi Long said in 2020 that addressing hate crime was a "priority", and began working on a Hate Crime Bill.

Mr O’Toole said news she would no longer deliver a stand-alone Hate Crime Bill was “odd”, because she claimed a further three years would not be enough time for it.

“It is odd that the Minister would claim that a piece of legislation which has been in the works for nearly four years, including when she was previously Justice Minister, and was an explicit promise in the Alliance Party manifesto, cannot be delivered in the next three years," he told the News Letter.

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"Given the importance of the issue and the fact that victims of hate crime have been waiting for strengthened legislation, they might have assumed that an incoming Justice Minister whose party campaigned to hold this Ministry and promised this legislation in their manifesto, would not see it as a priority.”

The Department of Justice told the News Letter that the primary reason for abandoning the bill was the impact of the reduced mandate, because the assembly had been suspended due to differences over the NI Protocol from 2022-24.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said: "The Department continued work on the drafting of those provisions where I had made a policy direction prior to collapse, on the basis of the first stage consultation. However they could not proceed with some of the other issues without a Minister in place.

“A standalone bill could not, therefore, be fully developed in the three years remaining of this mandate. However, 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.

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" I am now considering which of two possible legislative vehicles, either a Victims and Hate Crime Bill or in the Sentencing Bill, would be most appropriate to deliver progress urgently and will be consulting with the sector in the coming weeks.

“For victims of hate crime, the only impact as to whether the aggravator model is legislated for as a standalone bill or as part of a wider piece of legislation, is that as part of a wider bill it will be delivered more quickly. The operation of the model will be just as was always intended.”