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

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

What We Heard

1. The Advisory Group engaged with a number of stakeholders (listed at Annex B) and heard many views. Some stakeholder attended meetings of the Advisory Group, whilst others attended focused thematic roundtables looking at issues pertaining to a particular protected characteristic. These roundtables were immensely useful, and they raised a number of issues, both of specific relevance to a particular group, as well as of broader relevance to all minorities who may be at risk of hate crime or prejudice. The Chair of the Advisory Group also met with political leaders to explain the purpose of the Advisory Group's work. This section seeks to summarise some of what we have heard.

2. The harms of prejudice, bullying and hate crime to individuals, communities and society are real, long-lasting and deeply damaging. Participants in research reported many and widespread experiences of direct harm, prejudice and discrimination on a regular basis. Many people also experience indirect harms resulting from prejudice and threat, including self-isolation through fear and a lack of social support structures; and resistance to engaging with statutory services leading to wider social harms and inequalities of reduced health, wellbeing and longevity with the accompanying economic disadvantage. In addition, there is sometimes a perception that certain protected characteristic groups receive priority attention over others, and that this has the consequential effect of further marginalising other groups (such as those with learning disabilities or people in prison).

The global and political context

3. The global and media context is a crucial driver shaping the perception of safety for particular communities (such as Muslim or Jewish communities). Experiences of and anxiety about hate crime were both heightened during or following particularly high profile international events (examples included terrorist attacks by so-called 'Islamic State' and violence in Israel and Palestine). Some communities reported a sense of helplessness, isolation and 'retreat from external contact' following particular international incidents. This raises the need for government and community leaders to consider ways of ensuring that networks and channels of contact and communication are established and sustained to monitor and respond to the impact of events outside Scotland on communities within Scotland with a view to supporting internal community resilience and cohesion and the removing any sense of isolation and alienation which might result.

The domestic policy context and narrative

4. The Scottish Government's approach was widely appreciated, especially strong messaging about the unacceptability of hate crime. Engagement with celebratory events (such as LGBT History Month) and religious festivals was seen as important in demonstrating the practical commitment of Ministers to 'One Scotland'. Broader efforts to promote and encourage equality such as legislation on same-sex marriage and British Sign Language have been important for people directly affected by hate crime in underlining the commitment to long-term attitudinal change. While existing laws were considered to be relatively progressive, some participants also felt that the Government should review the current legal framework to ensure it is fit for purpose under changing circumstances. For example, some felt that the Equality Act and the associated duties could be strengthened in relation to schools, although it was acknowledged the Scotland Act 2016 devolved only certain aspects of equality. The language and communication of the UK PREVENT strategy [13] was widely considered to be problematic, even though it was acknowledged that the Scottish approach to PREVENT was rooted in positive community relations and cohesion. An assets-based approach to building community cohesion (one that focuses on harnessing the strengths of communities to achieve positive change, rather than solely on tackling perceived or actual deficits) was considered very helpful, alongside a more explicit focus on prevention and tackling the underlying attitudes and inequalities that create the conditions for hate crime.

5. The media has a critical role in shaping wider social attitudes and creating the context for understanding and acceptance. Many respondents expressed the view that reporting on emotive issues and responses to international events can deliberately or inadvertently show whole communities in a negative light. For example, we heard that the public narrative around migrants and asylum had significant consequences for people in local communities. Likewise, reporting of transgender and disability issues can legitimise intimidation against these already vulnerable groups, with the use of pejorative language and attempts to portray whole groups in a negative way for political and commercial purposes. Reporting of international issues or high profile events in the media could have a direct impact on the lives of people in Scotland through a perception that all members of specific minority communities were perpetrators of violence and abuse simply by virtue of cultural or religious association.

Definitions and language

6. Hate crime continues to be relatively poorly defined and understood, both in terms how it is defined, and what the law says. There is currently no specific formal offence of 'hate crime' in Scotland. The criminal law deals with 'prejudice' rather than 'hate'; offences that are motivated by prejudice based on a person's membership of a specific group are thereby aggravated and subject to more severe penalties as a result. In addition, there is a specific offence of racially aggravated harassment. These are the crimes referred to as 'hate crime' in this report.

7. There was a widespread concern among our respondents that the threshold for what constitutes inappropriate language in relation to target groups has fallen in recent years and that pejorative terms are being used, both in the media and in wider society. Too often prejudicial language or terms seems to be excused away as just 'banter' or challenge to such behaviour is dismissed as 'political correctness gone mad'. It was felt that through the rhetoric of some high profile figures was creating a new and dangerous 'permissive environment' licencing bigotry and intimidation as part of 'normal' debate and conversation.

8. There is a lively and important ongoing debate around priorities and approaches to hate crime, prejudice and social cohesion. Some have great difficulty with the term 'hate crime', with concerns that the term obscures much more prevalent, and arguably more pernicious, prejudice, bullying and harassment that minority groups experience on a daily basis. It also potentially prevents some perpetrators, or potential perpetrators, from addressing their attitudes and behaviours, as many people would not consider themselves capable of committing or having committed a 'hate crime' while simultaneously expressing views that are clearly prejudicial. This unwillingness to see contradictions between self-perception and behaviour the real impact that such behaviours have on individuals and communities.

Communities, place and geography

9. Scotland is home to a huge variety of communities and cultures. Hate crime occurs in all of these places, including the home, school, workplace, in the community and on the move. Participants identified a number of issues which require specific attention. Third party reporting functions sitting within third sector organisations, whilst seen as important, are not specifically resourced for this function and may be unevenly distributed across the country. Victims of hate crime report persistent issues of 'bystanding' by members of the public rather than intervention in incidents of bullying, intimidation and hate crime. The level of indirect harms caused by hate crime (such as social isolation and poor mental health) is not fully monitored, and there needs to be more recognition of the interaction with other social issues such as poverty, unemployment and social isolation. There may be a distinction of experience for minorities in urban and rural communities. Whilst isolation is evident in both urban and rural settings, there may be far less opportunity in rural settings to seek support and much more of a sense of being a 'minority of one', particularly for visible minorities. Paying attention to the available support infrastructure for people in these circumstances, both in terms of providing third party reporting sites and in building community cohesion and a sense of belonging, is crucial.

The Justice response

10. We heard strong evidence that different parts of the criminal justice system (such as the police, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) take prejudice-based crime seriously and are keen to show strong leadership in this area. For example, the provision of guidance for Procurator Fiscals on the presumption to prosecute when a sufficiency of evidence is available sends an important signal: that the vast majority of hate crimes reported to the Procurator Fiscal result in criminal proceedings.

11. However, we also heard evidence that the system continues to feel disjointed from the perspective of many victims. Better and more joined up communication between victims and the criminal justice system throughout the process would be helpful, and it is vital that agencies support victims to clearly understand particular prosecution outcomes. Improving opportunities to provide feedback to agencies, alongside transparency from these agencies on how issues raised will be addressed in future, would also be useful. We heard additional concerns that diversity within the workforces of criminal justice agencies remains limited, and that agencies generally would benefit from greater recruitment from the communities they serve.

12. Confidence in reporting incidents of hate crime to the police continues to be too low. Whilst the police have shown strong leadership and made significant progress in being more responsive and sympathetic, some participants believe that the police are not always consistently confident in dealing with reports and that some that some types of hate crime are better understood and receive more attention. It is not always possible for every officer to correctly interpret the subtlety and nuance of particular incidents, and well-informed local liaison officers therefore have a key role in direct engagement and building force capacity. Concern was expressed that individual officers might take decisions about referring cases to the Procurator Fiscal, and these decisions are not monitored for consistency. The creation of a single national police force has also led to fears of a loss of engagement at the local level, and a reduction in the quality and consistency of relationships in some areas.

13. Reporting a hate crime is often seen as a significant but difficult step for a victim. Many potential barriers were identified by participants including a fear of retribution, fear that an incident has not breached the threshold needed to be considered an act of criminality, fear that the legal process may be costly, exhausting and counter-productive and a fear that the victim will not be taken seriously when reporting the crime. More generally, many people who experience hatred and prejudice on a daily basis said that it would be impossible to report them all to the police. Many participants reported that people subject to repeated incidents of prejudice or hate crime internalised such behaviour as a 'normal' experience of everyday life and developed coping strategies to deal with these that do not include contact with Justice agencies or support services. It is important to ensure that the definition of the MacPherson report on racism continues to be recognised especially the insistence that a hate incident is defined by the perception of the victim.

14. All respondents agreed that hate crime continues to be underreported across all characteristics. Comparison of relevant statistics in Scotland and England by stakeholders suggests that hate crime is notably underreported by transgender people in Scotland, suggesting a level of isolation and fear. Participants suggested that, in cases of trans people, there may be fears of being the subject of salacious media attention in the event their case is made public which dissuades many transgender victims from seeking justice. Strong support was expressed for the operation of an effective, resourced network of third party reporting centres to help people report and access support.


15. Participants agreed that schools and education have an important role in addressing the prejudice and underlying attitudes that fuel hate crime, as well as in creating safe environments within schools for pupils with protected characteristics and for building relationships that support social cohesion in the long term. Developing age-appropriate interventions which address prejudice and prevent violence is critical as part of an effective approach to tackling bullying within and outwith schools. It was agreed that, while there is clearly an area of common experience between bullying in schools and the specifics of hate crime, schools should be equipped to make distinctive and appropriate interventions, or to draw on external support to make targeted responses. LGBTI groups were particularly keen to address the schools context, with young people continuing to report prejudice and bullying on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

16. At present, there appears to be a lack of consistency in the approaches of individual schools and local authorities towards issues of prejudice and discrimination. While it was accepted that the Curriculum for Excellence framework offers flexibility and possibilities for engaging with specific issues of prejudice and hate crime, there was serious concern that the highly decentralised model of education left individual teachers, schools and local authorities to determine how these issues are tackled at a local level with resulting inconsistency. There were suggestions that the perception of the impact on a school's reputation and/or record could be leading to some schools underreporting or being reluctant to report these issues. There were also suggestions that teachers often lacked confidence to address the range of issues at classroom level.

17. At a national level, there is an opportunity to influence, regulate and monitor the approach of schools through support, resources and inspection. Alongside the current strong focus on narrowing the attainment gap, it is important to ensure that issues of cohesion and of prejudice facing minorities, including the impact of prejudice-based bullying on learner outcomes, should not be overlooked. It was suggested that further tools and drivers were required to support all schools to reach a common standard in addressing these issues. Equality and inclusiveness should be integral to all aspects of the education of young people.

18. There are a number of steps that could be taken by educational institutions to deliver better outcomes in this area. Teachers must be equipped to identify and challenge racist behaviour and hate speech when it occurs within educational facilities by ensuring that educators receive professional development support. The education system should be required to embed equality, diversity and anti-discriminatory education within the curriculum and encouraged to diversify the schools workforce to ensure students are more exposed to different cultures and the full diversity of society. It is also important to ensure that educational material does not inadvertently reinforce negative stereotypes about minorities. Programmes and courses for schools leadership and individual teacher professional updates should ensure these issues form part of any professional development. This requires those who quality assure and inspect for standards to ensure consistency of scrutiny on equality and diversity matters.

Public and community services

19. While schools and the law have important roles in setting standards, most instances of prejudice and prejudice based bullying and harassment take place in communities and in settings which are not immediately monitored or controlled. It is therefore vital that public authorities develop policies and practice designed to improve good relations, develop co-operation on civic matters and promote leadership which is integrated and inclusive. This requires promoting action to tackle hate crime and prejudice at the core of community and youth services and ensuring that all public services are delivered on a fully equal basis. Public Services and local government have direct responsibility to foster good relations under the Equality Act, and it is crucial that key public services delivering services to the public such as health workers, public transport drivers and community and youth services have the capacity to respond to issues of prejudice or discrimination and alert management to potential issues of social cohesion and good relations. Addressing hate crime and prejudice and promoting social cohesion should remain important priorities for community planning, including reporting towards the national outcomes.


20. We heard evidence that hate crime and prejudice are also manifested in the workplace. While there are some good examples of anti-bullying and harassment policies in place (particularly within larger organisations), these do not always recognise hate crime and prejudice. A number of issues have been raised through trade unions, including a lack of confidence in the police and concerns about rising numbers of incidents towards particular groups (such as disabled people). There are challenges in seeking redress in small and medium sized enterprises, where due process may not always be followed and the employee-company relationship may be different. Within the workplace, there is a need to raise awareness of what hate crime and prejudice looks like and greater appreciation of equality within the ongoing work between employees and companies to improve the workplace.

Work of the third sector

21. Most participants believe that a vibrant third sector has a central role in ensuring direct victim and community engagement and service provision, and many organisations are taking forward work of importance. In addition to providing services and enabling direct participation by people targeted by hate crime and prejudice, voluntary organisations make a huge contribution in extending social capital and underpinning community cohesion. Faith organisations are actively in dialogue with Police Scotland, whilst race organisations have produced guidance on dealing with social media-related hate crime [14] . Disability organisations have worked to create 'Safe Spaces' within communities (such as shops and libraries) whereby individuals who are experiencing hate crime, or fear it, can go to those places and seek support. LGBTI organisations are training police liaison officers across Scotland [15] . A number of other organisations provide support to individuals and act as third party reporting centres.

22. The learning and expertise of these organisations is significant and it is essential that third sector organisations are integrated into multi-agency approaches to addressing hate crime and prejudice in Scotland.

Children and young people

23. The developing attitudes of children and young people towards minorities is vital to long-term prevention and healthy community cohesion. Peer-led support is critical to engaging with children and young people on these issues. Approaches to violence and prejudice pioneered by youth services have an important role to play both in promoting best practice and remaining up to date on trends and dangers. Many respondents considered that it was important to establish a culture of openness and inclusion in schools and considered important to avoid labelling young people as 'criminal' which may be a barrier to working with them to address behaviours and attitudes. This might include fostering a culture of learning to prevent prejudice and discrimination.


24. Better understanding the composition and the motivations of perpetrators, and the culture which produce them, is necessary to address the underlying behaviours that manifest themselves in hate crime. The Equality and Human Rights Commission ( EHRC) has published research in this area, and previous work was taken forward by the Scottish Government to better understand the motivations of perpetrators. It is important in this context to avoid pathologising or individualising all instances of hate crime, as what evidence does exist on the demographics of convicted perpetrators suggests that they are likely to be young (25 years of age and under), unemployed or underemployed men with increased likelihood of being involved in the criminal justice system more generally.

25. There are therefore important and complex issues of inequality and community alienation that require broad consideration by community leaders and policy makers. Generally, there is a need to consider the broader structural dynamics of perpetrating, experiencing and addressing hate crime and how structural disadvantage (for example, in access to services, or in the labour market) combines with discrimination and violence to negatively shape people's life experiences and community relations.


26. While official data on reported incidents of hate crime in Scotland establish the existence of a significant problem, it remains difficult to analyse reliable trends. It is widely acknowledged that reporting issues (both underreporting and uncertainty and inconsistency in reporting practices) significantly affect overall figures. We heard that many people who experienced prejudice and hate crime avoided contact with the police and their experiences would therefore not be reflected in official statistics. Levels of prejudice and hate crime are therefore generally acknowledged to be higher than is reflected in official figures. In relation to incidents which do not reach the threshold of 'crime', this situation is even less satisfactory, including a lack of data in relation to the wider concept of incidents, for example where an individual is targeted on the basis of their refugee or asylum status within a broader category of race. More generally, there are gaps in existing data provision in some areas such as prisons and the workplace; in terms of the latter, hate crime can and does occur in the workplace and this needs to be better understood.

27. Having access to high quality, useful data is important for policymakers, for communities and for informed debate on the issues more widely. Data on hate incidents should capture a number of metrics, including the number of direct reports; the number of reports made through third party centres and the number of engagements third party reporting centres have had with victims, who may not always end up reporting the incident. Currently, data collection and disaggregation appears to be inconsistent, and the system is not necessarily being fully interrogated. Many of our participants reported that Police Scotland data is mixed in terms of usefulness, in particular because it has not been available at local level since the creation of Police Scotland, and that the whole system of data collection appears to be somewhat disjointed and inaccessible. Continued delays in establishing a vulnerable persons database is an obvious barrier to producing good police data, and data sharing across agencies needs to improve. It was noted that capturing cases of intersectionality (for example, someone could be targeted because of their disability and their sexual orientation) was also essential. Finally it is difficult to obtain clear data about the outcomes of those cases that do come before the courts, and so it is therefore difficult to assess how effective the system is in tackling hate crime and what outcomes are effective in reducing offending rates.

28. Experiential surveys such as the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey and the Scottish Household Survey are important in providing a more reliable picture of the level of prejudice and hate crime. Consistent data from the education sector on issues of prejudice-based bullying would also be helpful. It would be helpful to disaggregate all the relevant data to inform the approach across partner bodies, and to apply a critical lens to qualitative data around lived experience.

29. There are a number of sources of data, and it is important to consider how different sources of data can be brought together in considering the extent, nature and means of addressing hate crime in Scotland. There also appear to be gaps in data, particularly in relation to the private sector and people's experience of hate crime and prejudice in the workplace. There is a need for more robust qualitative research to develop a more detailed picture of the experiences of people (both in terms of incidence and service response) as an additional perspective to the official statistics. Generally, there is an appetite for more data to better understand the problem and the long-term trends, and to use this to develop appropriate interventions.

Social media and digital communications

30. Online abuse is a relatively recent (but rapidly growing) phenomenon and has proved an extremely difficult arena to manage or 'police'. We heard disturbing evidence that social media was being used to target vulnerable people and to perpetrate bullying, prejudice and even hate crime. Therefore, providing effective ways for victims to report online abuse is essential. The perceived anonymity afforded by online profiles has created an environment where some perpetrators act without fear of consequence. This is increasingly an issue for children and young people, who are more likely to use such technology and therefore be negatively impacted when being subject to bullying or hate crime through social media platforms. Alongside justice agencies, providers of social media such as Facebook and Twitter have an important role in tackling online abuse.


31. The issue of gender as an aggravation ( e.g. in relation to behaviours driven by extreme misogyny) was touched upon, along with the issue that some hate crimes are perpetrated against people who are perceived to be asylum seekers and refugees and that this is also not an aggravation under the current law was touched upon. These matters require research and further exploration, especially in relation to community-based approaches designed to address these challenges.


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