Giles Watling, MP for Clacton, is promoting a consultation by the Law Commission on hate crime, which also asks whether age should be recognised as a protected characteristic.
This consultation, launched in September 2020, comes in response to concerns that criminal law does not treat all protected characteristics equally. This means that someone who is assaulted based on disability is not afforded the same protection as someone who is assaulted because of their race.
As part of the Commission’s recommendations, consultees’ views are also invited on whether age should be, for the first time, recognised as a protected characteristic for the purposes of hate crime law. Offences against those with a protected characteristic carry stricter sentences, and the Crown Prosecution Service can apply to the courts for a sentence uplift in these cases, which increases the punishment for offenders.
Following a meeting with a local pensioners action group, TenPAG, Giles has been campaigning to increase sentences for elder abuse, given local and national examples of convicted offenders receiving lenient sentences. If age became a protected characteristic, this would extend stricter sentences and potential sentence uplifts to elder abuse convictions.
Elder abuse centres on an ‘expectation of trust’ that an older person may rightly establish with another person for their care, but which may be subsequently violated, leading to physical, financial, psychological, and sexual abuse. There are one million victims of elder abuse each year in the UK, but only 0.5% of reported incidents result in a successful criminal conviction.
In October 2018, Giles coordinated a letter from twenty MPs to the Law Commission to ask that age become a protected characteristic. Replying in November 2018, Sir Nicholas Green, Chair of the Law Commission, committed to giving the issue careful consideration as part of this consultation. Giles also held an Adjournment Debate on this matter in the House of Commons.
Information about the consultation, which is open until 24th December 2020, can be found here. Questions 15 and 16 focus on age: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/hate-crime/
Speaking about the consultation, Giles said:
“This is an important opportunity. Making age a protected characteristic would immediately increase sentences for those convicted of elder abuse, even before the possibility of sentencing uplifts are considered. We also need the police and CPS to take these cases more seriously given the low rate of convictions. Again, making age a protected characteristic will do just that.
“The subject of elder abuse has been overlooked for too long. Some 32% of residents in the Clacton constituency are aged over 65, and we must do more to protect them and all the vulnerable older people nationally.
“Therefore, we must beef up sentences and deter would be abusers. We can do that now and I would call on all those with an interest to complete this consultation, as I have.
“Elder abuse takes many forms, from physical to financial, often both. It is one of those crimes that is often behind closed doors, so is difficult to detect, so when it is, the penalties should be commensurate.”