Legal definition of sectarianism working group: final report

Final report by an independent working group exploring the scope to define sectarianism in Scots law. The group was Chaired by Professor Duncan Morrow.

Section 1: Introduction

Sectarianism can best be described as ‘a persistent intersectional issue’ in Scotland. By this we mean that it is a phenomenon originating in religious divisions which also draws in other identities, especially those of a racial and ethnic nature. In everyday speech, the term has come to be used to describe or allege specific discrimination and threat as well as being used in more imprecise ways in many informal settings to describe behaviours such as name-calling, humour and throwaway remarks which may or may not be intended to be disrespectful.

Until now, sectarianism has not been given formal definition in Scots Law. As a result, sectarianism can be alleged but never proven in law. It can be experienced as threatening and yet not taken properly into account through police and court proceedings.

This Working Group was established for a short and defined period to explore the potential for establishing a legal definition which might function as a useful mechanism for providing clarity. We fully recognised that legislation on its own is an inadequate means to address any deeply rooted social issues. However, we also recognise that legislation can play a vital role in establishing the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in society. Beyond its application by police and court services, the establishment of a legal definition also has the potential to support those working in communities to identify and name sectarian behaviour in those communities as the first step to tailoring effective interventions.

Our purpose was to advise on a potential definition of sectarianism that the Scottish Government could use as the basis for wider consultation with communities and interest groups across Scotland. The findings in this report were reached after discussions with a range of interest groups.

The members of the group were Duncan Morrow (Chair); Alison Logan; Andrew Tickell; Margaret Lynch; Ian Galloway; and Michael Rosie. All of the members were invited to participate on a purely personal basis, drawing on their broad experience of tackling community tensions or understanding of the law. The views expressed in this report are those of the group members and do not represent the official views of any organisation that the group members are currently, or have previously been, affiliated to. While we are very grateful for the willingness of everyone with whom we met to contribute to our work, the conclusions of this report are the views of the group members alone.

We hope this report will stimulate wider debate on the merits of our proposals from many quarters.


Email: David Ross

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