Report of Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion

Independent Advisory Group report on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion.

Policy and Law

1. The Advisory Group took time to understand the policy and legislative context for hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion in Scotland, and also considered an evidence paper produced by the University of Glasgow which drew from stakeholder views and the available literature on these issues [1] .

2. The Scottish Government has expressed a strong commitment to tackling hate crime, clearly stating that all forms of prejudice and bigotry are unacceptable in Scotland. They encourage anyone who believes that they are or have been a victim of a hate crime to report it to the police.

3. In 2009 Parliament passed legislation which helps to tackle hate crime, creating an offence of racially aggravated harassment [2] and statutory aggravations where criminal offences are aggravated if they are motivated by prejudice based on a victim's membership of a racial group [3] , religious group [4] , disability [5] , sexual orientation [6] or transgender identity [7] . More recently, Parliament has passed legislation designed to tackle hateful, threatening and otherwise offensive behaviour at football matches [8] . The offence of 'Threatening Communications' provides for a criminal offence concerning the sending of communications which contain threats of serious violence or which contain threats intended to incite hatred on religious grounds [9] .

4. The most recent statistics published by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, indicate that all groups continue to experience hate crime, and the 'Hate Crime in Scotland 2015/16 [10] ' report note that race hate crime is still the largest hate crime category (3,712) but has decreased 3% since last year. Sexual orientation crime is the second largest category of hate crime, and has increased 20% since last year - there were 1,020 charges reported in 2015-16. Religious crime has increased 3% since last year, but the number is at its second lowest level since 2004-05. There were 201 disability charges, which is 14% higher than last year. And transgender charges remain low, although there were 30 in 2015-16, the highest number since legislation was introduced. Within the associated report on religiously aggravated crime [11] , the number of charges relating to Islam has increased 89% to 134 charges from the 71 recorded charges last year. This increase is not attributable to a single event or pattern, and appears to reflect a general rise in the reporting of these types of charges. Jewish hate crime remains very low and has fallen further, to 18 incidents.

5. Within the Scottish Government's Equality Outcomes, first published in 2013 as a requirement of the then new Public Sector Equality Duty, there was a recognition that hate crime was of immediate concern to a number of groups and that this had come out strongly during consultation on the outcomes. Whilst there was agreement about its importance, there was less clarity at that stage about what such an outcome might look like. There was a commitment to give consideration as to whether hate crime should form the basis of a future programme of work or a specific equality outcome, the next tranche of which are due to be published in 2017.

6. Funding has been made available through the Scottish Budget to tackle hate crime, eradicate prejudice and build community cohesion. In 2015/16 (the last financial year), the Scottish Government invested £20.3 million through the Equality Budget to advance equality, eliminate discrimination and foster good relations. Within the Equality Fund (which amounted to approximately £3 million in the last financial year), there was a specific theme of tackling discrimination and hate crime. From the Community Safety Budget, a further £3 million was invested over the same period in tackling sectarianism. The Equality Budget has been maintained at £20.3 million for the 2016/17 financial year while £1 million is being invested to tackle sectarianism through taking forward the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland.

7. Police Scotland have primary operational responsibility for ensuring that the public is protected from hate crime and that, when hate crime does occur, perpetrators are apprehended and charged under appropriate legislation. Police Scotland have made clear that hate crime is unacceptable and encourage victims to report, either directly or through an online form on their website or through the network of third party reporting centres it has responsibility for supporting and maintaining. There are a number of centres in Scotland [12] .

8. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) is responsible for prosecuting those charged with hate- and prejudice-related offences, and in supporting victims and witnesses in engaging with the prosecution process. COPFS has a 'zero tolerance' approach to crimes and told the Advisory Group that there is a presumption in favour of prosecution where an offence is aggravated by prejudice and there is sufficient evidence. Any decision not to prosecute in such a case must be made at a senior level after careful consideration of the public interest. The Crown Office liaises with the victim on progress and also refers to the Victim Information and Advice Service ( VIA) who can offer advice and support. Successive Lord Advocates have endorsed and promoted this approach.

9. Scottish Courts have long-standing powers to punish someone more severely for committing a hate crime through common law powers to take into account aggravating factors when sentencing. As noted above, the new statutory hate crime powers have been provided to the courts by Parliament to complement these common law powers. Legislation also provides that the aggravation must be taken into account in determining the appropriate sentence. This approach can mean higher sentences for such offences but also contributes to better recording, monitoring and understanding of this type of crime.

10. The Justice system can punish and deter hate crime, but it cannot on its own build strong social relationships or ensure positive and informed attitudes and behaviour within society. In 2010, the Scottish Government published the Scottish Social Attitudes survey: Attitudes to Discrimination and Positive Action. In 2010, a significant minority of people in Scotland (28%) maintained that there was sometimes good reason to be prejudiced, although two-thirds felt Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of all kinds of prejudice. While people who knew someone from a particular group were less likely to express discriminatory views about someone from that group, there was evidence that prejudice was sometimes considered acceptable in some parts of society. Prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes were particularly common in relation to Gypsy/Travellers and transgender people and the wearing of religiously symbolic clothing and jewellery was still regarded as a problem by some people.

11. In general, the survey showed that prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes have changed little since 2006. There has, however, been a significant decline in the expression of negative attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. By 2010, 61% agreed that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. There was a small increase in the proportion of people believing that people from ethnic minority groups and people from Eastern Europe take jobs away from other people in Scotland. An updated module was conducted in 2015, to be published later in 2016. Stakeholders have produced surveys evidencing the lived experience of individuals with protected characteristics, which highlights issues around feelings of safety and a prevalence of individuals experiencing both low level and significant incidence in their day-to-day lives. Qualitative and quantitative aspects of this data, alongside regular engagement with stakeholders and community representatives, help to inform the Scottish Government's approach to building 'One Scotland'.

12. The Scottish Government is refreshing its National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People (which includes bullying based on prejudice) to ensure that it remains current and reflects policy developments in line with the legal framework outlined in the Equality Act 2010, and captures findings from recent research including the respectme research Bullying in Scotland 2014 and Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research (2012). This ties into broader work to foster good relationships and positive behaviour within the learning environment, which underpins the four capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence. Continued funding and support is also given to Scotland's National Anti-Bullying Service, respectme.

13. Respectme works with local authorities and all those working with children and young people to build confidence and capacity to tackle bullying effectively. A priority for this service is to continue to be a holistic and inclusive approach to anti-bullying, which includes prejudice-based bullying and takes consideration of the protected characteristics. Education Scotland has a key role to play in the education of children and young people and in supporting schools and local authorities to deliver learning through Curriculum for Excellence about rights, responsibilities, equality and tackling discrimination, whilst local authorities and schools themselves have responsibility for implementing government policy in these areas. Education Scotland also continues to provide support for local authorities and schools around promoting positive relationships with children and young people, which includes providing support on anti-bullying and inclusion.

14. A robust framework of policy and legislation for tackling these issues is already in place. Furthermore, there is evidence of investment in communities over a period of time. The Scottish Government continues to articulate a clear commitment to building a positive country which celebrates diversity, and the authorities are committed to taking hate crime seriously and to responding to it. However, the critical test in tackling hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion is not the existence of legal frameworks but evidence of real change for people and communities. The Advisory Group therefore spent the bulk of our time investigating how these issues actually impact on people in communities.


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