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.

2. Method

The analysis used the same method to the previous analysis of religiously aggravated offending, carried out by the Scottish Government since 2010-11 [3] . The analysis involved a review of COPFS case-files extracted from their case management database. The COPFS database contains information about the charges submitted to the 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.

The COPFS case-management database is primarily designed for operational purposes rather than routine analysis. However extracted data-sets have been used as the source of these reports since 2010-11.

The analysis in this report is based on the religious aggravation charges that were reported to the COPFS in 2017-18. There are a number of points that should be noted when reading this report.

First, this analysis does not provide a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of religiously aggravated 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 people with an offence. The information that is reported by the police to the 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.

Other data however presents different estimates of prevalence for this type of offending. Researchers for the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey ( SCJS) conduct 6,000 face-to-face interviews of a randomly selected sample of adults across Scotland on an annual basis [4] . The survey 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 sectarianism in the SCJS is relatively low and consistent over time; it has been 1% or lower in each survey since 2009-10.

Second, religious aggravations data provide a partial account of the nature of religiously aggravated incidents reported to the 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 the COPFS.

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 the COPFS as racial aggravations rather than religious aggravations, depending on the nature of the conduct.

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 social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation", or the offence is motivated by the same. There is no available data held by Police Scotland or the 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.

Fifth, 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. 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 OBFTCA, should be reported using alternative common law or statutory offences, with a religious aggravation if appropriate. 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. Consequently, figures for religiously aggravated hate crime may be higher in 2017-18 than they otherwise would have been.

Sixth, some of the charges from the 2017-18 financial year are on-going and information about their outcomes is not yet available.

Finally, Justice Analytical Services are publishing new information on hate-related incidents recorded by the police later this year. The development of this new report on hate related-incidents now provides an alternative way of reporting on hate crime in Scotland with a religious element and we are considering the future of this religiously aggravated offending publication. Therefore, we intend to pause this publication for 2018-19 while we discuss with our users following publication of the report on hate related incidents to understand whether this meets their needs. We will keep users informed of our plans on this.


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