Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2013-14

Analysis of charges reported under the act to provide information about the nature of the religiously aggravated offending charges, the accused and the victims of incidents.


2.1 The analysis used a similar method to the previous analyses of religiously aggravated offending, carried out by the Scottish Government in 2010-11[7], 2011-12[8], and 2012-13[9]. It involved a review of COPFS case-files extracted from their case management database. The COPFS database contains information about the charges submitted to COPFS by the police. It also includes information about the decision on whether or not to proceed with the charge, and the final outcome of the charge. This report compares charge information with corresponding information from the previous two years.

2.2 The COPFS case-management database is not designed for routine analysis but extracted data-sets have been used as the source for this research project since 2011.

2.3 The analysis in this report is based on the religious aggravation charges that were reported to COPFS in 2013-14. 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 because there are circumstances where the police are not practically 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.

2.5 Other data, however, presents different estimates of prevalence for this type of offending. Researchers for the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) interview a randomly selected sample of adults in 13,000 households across Scotland. This survey 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 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."[10] In 2012/13 this proportion remained at just below 1%.[11]

2.6 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. Therefore, some reports may be inconclusive on the issues relevant to this research. 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 Third, this study only looked at religiously-aggravated offending and the religious beliefs and affiliations that were targeted. It therefore does not provide a complete account of offending aggravated by 'sectarian' prejudice. For example, 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 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 groups or of cultural groups with a perceived religious affiliation as this is not relevant to the definition of the crime in law.

2.9 Fifth, new legislation was introduced on 1 March 2012; the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012[12] 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 pre-2012 may 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 2013-14.

2.10 Finally, some of the charges from the 2013-14 financial year may still be underway and information about their outcomes is not yet available.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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