Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2011-12

A breakdown of religious aggravations charges (section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2010) in Scotland in 2011-12.

2. Method

2.1 The analysis used a similar method to the previous analysis carried out by the Scottish Government and COPFS that was published in November 2011[5]. This involved a review of COPFS case files extracted from its case management database. The database contains the information about the offence which was submitted to COPFS by the police at the time of the offence. It also includes information about the progress of the charge, the decision on whether or not to proceed with the charge, and the final outcome of the case. Since this is a live database, information can be updated and changed during the life of the case. For instance if the Procurator Fiscal amends a charge, the database only holds details of the amended charge.

2.2 The analysis in this report is based on all of the religious aggravation charges that were reported to COPFS in 2011-12. There are a number of points that should be noted when reading this report.

2.3 First, this analysis provides an indication but not a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of religiously offensive conduct in Scotland. This is because not all incidents of religiously aggravated offending come to the attention of the police, or in circumstances where they are able to charge offenders with an offence. The information that is reported by the police to COPFS may also be influenced by the decisions the police have made about when and where to deploy their officers and their enforcement strategies for religiously motivated crime. The number of charges may be increased in certain circumstances, such as where extra emphasis may have been given to the detection and reporting of religiously offensive crime. These figures may also not adequately reflect the religious prejudice that police became aware of but were not able to deal with, for example on occasions where there were large groups of people singing religiously offensive songs.

2.4 Second, this analysis only provides a partial account of the nature of religiously aggravated incidents reported to COPFS. Police reports are designed to provide prosecutors with sufficient evidence to prosecute an accused person. The reports may therefore sometimes be inconclusive on the issues relevant to this research and it is possible that, for example, information about the nature of the religious offence, or links to alcohol or football may be incomplete or under-reported if the police did not need to highlight these factors to prove a charge being reported to COPFS.

2.5 Third, this study only looked at religiously aggravated offending and the religious beliefs and affiliations which were targeted. It therefore does not provide a complete account of offending aggravated by 'sectarian' prejudice. This is because many of these types of incidents may have been reported to COPFS as racial aggravations rather than religious aggravations, depending on the nature of the conduct. Information about the number of racially aggravated charges in 2011-12 was included in the COPFS report 'Hate Crime in Scotland 2011-12' (Ibid).

2.6 Fourth, this report does not present any information about the religious beliefs or affiliations of the people targeted by the offensive conduct. The legislation defines a religiously aggravated offence as an incident where the offender evinces towards the victim 'malice and ill-will based on the victim's membership (or perceived membership) of a religious group or a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation', or, the offence is motivated by the same. There is no data held by police or COPFS on victims' membership of religious or cultural groups with a perceived religious affiliation as this is not relevant to the definition of the crime in law.

2.7 Fifth, new legislation was introduced on 1 March 2012, (Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012)[6] which criminalises behaviour which is threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting. Religiously offensive behaviour which might before this time have been dealt with under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, might from this date have been dealt with under the new legislation[7]. This may have been responsible for a reduction in the number of religious aggravation charges for the month of March 2012.

2.8 Finally, some of the charges from the 2011-12 financial year may still be underway and information about their outcomes is not therefore included.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

Back to top