Religiously aggravated offending in Scotland 2017-2018: analysis of charges

Analysis of charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service of Scotland (COPFS) under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.

Executive Summary

In 2017-18, 642 charges were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service of Scotland ( COPFS) with a religious aggravation under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. This is a decrease of 5% from the 678 charges reported in 2016-17 although the number of charges reported each year fluctuates (see Table 1 of this report).

The number of religiously aggravated charges this year will have been influenced by the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications ( OBFTC) (Scotland) Act 2012. This legislation came into force on 1 March 2012, and was repealed on 20 April 2018. Among other things, this legislation criminalises religious hatred that is connected to football. While in use, it may have been used instead of section 74 in certain circumstances.

Following Parliament's decision that the OBFTC Act would be repealed, revised Lord Advocate's Guidelines dated 9 March 2018 outlined that criminal offences in connection with football, which may previously have been reported using section 1 or section 6 of the 2012 Act, should be reported using alternative common law or statutory offences. Therefore, after this date, new charges which previously would have been reported under the OBFTC Act, may instead have been reported under a different offence with a religious aggravation.

In addition, COPFS conducted a review of all on-going charges under the OBFTC Act and a number which were on-going at that time will have been amended to a different offence with a religious aggravation. This means that any direct comparisons between 2017-18 and previous years should be treated with caution.

Roman Catholicism is the religion that was most often the subject of reported abuse, with 319 charges for 2017-18. This is a decrease of 17% from 384 charges in 2016-17. The proportion of charges where Roman Catholicism was the subject of abuse has also decreased since 2016-17: from 57% to 50% in 2017-18.

Protestantism and Islam are the religions that were subject to the next highest number of aggravations in 2017-18. There were 174 charges (27% of total charges) related to Protestantism in 2017-18; a small increase from 2016-17 when there were 165 charges (25%).

The number of charges where conduct was derogatory towards Islam has remained relatively stable, with 113 (17%) charges in 2016-17 and 115 (18%) charges in 2017-18. Whilst 2017-18 figures are below the peak of 2015-16, they are higher than those recorded earlier in the time series.

Charges for conduct derogatory towards Judaism was also similar to the previous year, with 23 charges in 2016-17 and 21 charges in 2017-18. The overall proportion of all charges involving derogatory conduct towards Judaism has remained the same over this period (3%).

As with previous years, Glasgow had the highest concentration of charges with 173 (27% of total charges) and the highest charges per head of population with 28 per 100,000 population.

The number of football-related section 74 charges ( e.g. if the police noted the relevance of a football association within the description of the charge) has increased since 2016-17, from 72 charges to 116 charges; an increase of 61%, this is likely related to the repeal of the OBFTC Act.

In line with previous years, the vast majority of the charges (89%) relate to male accused.

Thirty-eight per cent of charges noted an accused aged 30 and under. This is a small decrease from 2016-17 and 2015-16 (each 41%) and is the lowest recorded figure since analysis was first undertaken in 2012-13.

The accused was noted to be under the influence of alcohol in 55% of charges. In 2016-17 this was noted in 52% of charges.

Police officers were the most common target for religiously aggravated abuse. In 2017-18 there were 277 charges (43%) where the police was the victim. This is a similar proportion to 2016-17, when this was 44%, but there were fewer charges in 2017-18 where police were the victim (293 charges in 2016-17).

Many cases are on-going and information about final convictions will be presented in Scottish Government 'criminal proceedings' publications [1] . Provisional data shows that of the 370 concluded charges, 303 (82%) resulted in a conviction.

A monetary penalty was applied to 102 charges (34%) in 2017-18, a small increase on 2016-17. This was followed by community penalty (101 charges, 33%), figures consistent with the previous year.


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