Lancaster University

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'New' Labour legislates for morality

06/30/2008 10:05:10

A new book published to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the enactment of Britain's first 'hate crime' law argues that 'New' Labour has established a significant moral agenda for public behaviour with regard to respecting diversity by legislating against expressions of bigotry.

The 'New' Labour government has of late been accused of lacking a moral compass and criticised for its many criminal justice initiatives. Contrary to such views, a new book Hate Crime and the City by Paul Iganski, a criminologist at Lancaster University, argues that 'New' Labour's 'hate crime' laws have set a significant moral agenda for the respect of diversity and difference by criminalising the manifest bigotry that often accompanies offences. Stonewall's recently published survey evidence on homophobic attacks reveals how extensive such offences can be.

Published by Policy Press to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of provisions for racially aggravated offences in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, this timely book argues that the bigotry underpinning such offences is intricately woven into the social fabric of society. The book argues that 'New' Labour's legislative programme against such incidents since 1998 provides an important moral agenda for appropriate public behaviour. Britain's 'hate crime' laws are thus targeted at the collective conscience, as well as the individual offender, in an explicit attempt to legislate morality.

Written by a leading expert in the field, the book takes a victim-centred approach to explore and unravel the everyday circumstances of offending.

Contrary to the view that 'hate crime' offenders are often extreme bigots, the book demonstrates that many offenders are just ordinary people who offend in the context of their everyday lives. Using data from the British Crime Survey the book also provides evidence of the unique harms inflicted by hate crimes. Iganski argues that, despite concern about a growing punitiveness, Britain's 'hate crime' laws provide a justifiable and important symbolic cue against offending. The value systems which underpin offenders' actions support the desirability of 'hate crime' laws, not only to prompt criminal justice agents to respond appropriately to victims, but more significantly to serve as a cue against potential transgression.