Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2012-13

Information about religious aggravations charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) by the police in 2012-13.

2. Method

2..1 The analysis used a similar method to the previous analysis carried out by the Scottish Government of religiously aggravated offending in 2010-11 and 2011-12, that were published in November 2011 and 20124 respectively. It involved a review of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services (COPFS) case-files extracted from its case management database. The database contains the information about the charges which were submitted to COPFS by the police at the time of the charge. It also includes information about the decision on whether or not to proceed with the charge, and its final outcome.

2.2 The COPFS case management database is not designed for routine analysis but has been used as the source for this one-off research project.

2.3 The analysis in this report is based on the religious aggravation charges that were reported to COPFS in 2012-13. There are a number of points that should be noted when reading this report.

2.4 First, this analysis does not provide 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. The fact that the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey shows there has been no increase in the proportion of victims who believe that the crime they experienced was related to race, religion or sectarianism suggests that the increase in the numbers of religiously aggravated crimes that have been reported to COPFS in recent years is indeed likely to be due to changes in reporting and recording practice. The survey interviews a randomly selected adult5 in 13,000 households across Scotland, is carried out every two years and asks respondents about crimes that they may have experienced in the past year. Those who are the victims of crime are asked whether they thought the incident may have been racially or religiously motivated or related to sectarianism. The proportion of crimes thought to be motivated by any of these reasons is very low and consistent over time. In 2008/09, 1% of crimes were thought by respondents to be motivated by sectarianism. In 2009/10 this dropped to less than 0.5% and then returned to 1% in 2010/11. The next data point in the series will be for 2012/13 and available from November 2013.

2.5 Second, 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.

2.6 Third, 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.

2.7 Fourth, 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.

2.8 Fifth, 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.

2.9 Sixth, new legislation was introduced on 1 March 2012; the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 20126 that criminalises behaviour which is threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match, including offensive singing or chanting, where it is likely to incite public disorder. Religious hatred connected to football which might before this time have been charged under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, might from this date have been dealt with under the new legislation. This may have been responsible for a reduction in the number of football-related religious aggravation charges that were dealt with through section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, in 2012-13.

2.10 Finally, some of the charges from the 2012-13 financial year may still be underway and information about their outcomes is not yet available.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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