Hate law in Victoria – no prosecutions

March 26, 2010 Agencies
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The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was passed in Victoria in 2001….and not a single prosecution since.

John Searle

John Searle, the president of the The Jewish Community Council of Victoria, has spoken out about police understanding of racially motivated crimes.

A statement issued jointly by the Anti-Defamation Commission and The Jewish Community Council of Victoria  says:

Changing Victoria’s laws will do nothing to affect hate crime unless police are prepared to act on the laws we already have, the Jewish community believes.

In a submission to the Victorian Government’s Hate Crimes Review, the Jewish community has called for improved investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The community wants the police to set up a specific Hate Crimes Unit to respond to hate crimes and to train all police so they understand when racial vilification has occurred.

The submission, prepared by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, said the Jewish community recorded 101 cases of identity-motivated attack last year, most commonly in the formal of verbal abuse but also including missiles aimed at people walking to synagogues, graffiti, racial vilification and less commonly physical violence.

JCCV president Mr John Searle said in some cases it was clear racial vilification had occurred but police were not prepared to act. “When we raise the possibility of action under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act what we hear from police is, ‘Let’s not go there’. Often it seems the ordinary copper on the beat does not even realise a crime has occurred.”

The Jewish Community submission also called for a third-party reporting system, so that victims could go to an organisation other than police to deal with racial abuse; the introduction of specific policing initiatives in vulnerable areas, improved police education and better data management.

Mr Searle said minority communities who had been pleased when the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was passed in 2001 were deeply disappointed that there had not been a single prosecution under the Act.

But he said the Jewish community was pleased the Victorian Government had amended sentencing laws last year to ensure judges increased penalties when an attack was motivated by hate.

The submission recommends some additional legal changes, bringing racial vilification under the Crimes Act and introducing a civil remedy, so that individuals who suffer physical or psychological harm have some recourse.

But Searle emphasised the key issues were not legal. “New legislation is not the answer.  Appropriate legislation is already available; it is the resolve to use it and possibly the awareness of its existence that is the problem.”

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