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The shaping, enactment and interpretation of the first hate-crime law in the United Kingdom - An informative and illustrative lesson for South Africa

K. Naidoo


Hate crimes are crimes that are motivated by personal prejudice or bias. Hate-crime laws criminalise such conduct and allow for the imposition of aggravated penalties on convicted perpetrators. This article examines the historical, social and political factors which influenced the shaping and enactment of the first British hate-crime law. The South African context is also considered since the Department of Justice has recently released the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill for public commentary and input.

While Britain has had a long historical record of criminal conduct that was motivated by the race and the ethnicity of victims, it was only in the twentieth century that civil society first drew attention to the problem of violent racist crimes. Nevertheless, successive British governments denied the problem of racist crimes and refused to consider the enactment of a hate-crime law. Following a high-profile racist murder and a governmental inquiry, a British Labour Party-led government eventually honoured its pre-election commitment and passed a hate-crime law in 1998.

Some parallels are apparent between the British and the South African contexts. South Africa also has a long historical record of racially motivated hate crimes. Moreover, in the post-apartheid era there have been numerous reports of racist hate crimes and hate crimes against Black lesbian women and Black foreigners. Despite several appeals from the academic and non-governmental sectors for the enactment of a hate-crime law, and the circulation for public commentary of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, such a law has hitherto not been enacted in South Africa. This article posits that the enactment of a hate-crime law is a constitutional imperative in South Africa in terms of the right to equality and the right to freedom and security of the person. While the enactment of a hate-crime law in South Africa is recommended, it is conceded that enacting a hate-crime law will not eradicate criminal conduct motivated by prejudice and bias.

Keywords: Hate crime; hate-crime laws; United Kingdom; Crime and Disorder Act of 1998; South Africa; constitutional imperative.
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