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 Recommend

1. The Advisory Group carefully considered what it heard and the available evidence. We offer the following thoughts and recommendations as next steps.

2. The definition of hate crime and the understanding of the definition was raised throughout our discussions as significant, as has (to a lesser extent) what we mean by prejudice and community cohesion. Using the language of 'hate' in this context sometimes leads to a lack of recognition of what has transpired, as sometimes neither victim nor perpetrator recognise their experience or actions to be based on, or driven by, hate. Using the language of crime can also be confusing, especially in circumstances where the criminal law deals with offences motivated by prejudice rather than hate. The importance of having clear definitions and common understandings was clear. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government should lead discussion on the development of clearer terminology and definitions around hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion; and
  • Public education should be undertaken to improve understanding of the nature and extent of hate crime.

3. Prejudice-based crime laws currently protect people based on their race, faith, sexual orientation, transgender identity and disability. There are no similar protections on the basis of gender or age. The issue of whether prejudice based on gender should be added to the list of criminal aggravations is presently the subject of discussion within equality and human rights organisations. Intersectionality of characteristics was frequently raised, as many people have multiple protected characteristics. It was recognised that the present criminal law allows prejudice based on multiple characteristics to feature as aggravators of the one charge, if appropriate, but data did not make it clear the extent to which, if at all, this had happened. Questions were raised regarding the extent to which laws protect groups such as asylum seekers and refugees, and this is something that requires further reflection. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government should consider whether the existing criminal law provides sufficient protections for those who may be at risk of hate crime, for example based on gender, age or membership or other groups such as refugees and asylum seekers.

4. Prejudice and hate crime is intimately connected to the individual experience - whether in the home, at school, at work, in public spaces and on public transport. These experiences can be one off and open or hidden and frequent. They can have direct and long term impact on personal lives. Significant further impacts - such as resulting social isolation, mental health issues, poorer economic outcomes and a general reduction in quality of life - also arise in too many cases; this can be seen at both a personal and a community level. There are particular issues to address across all environments and communities, and work is ongoing to address this in some areas more than in others. We heard of three areas in particular, where our respondents agreed that specific change was needed: public transport; the internet (in particular social media); and the workplace.

5. Public transport appears to present a particular kind of enclosed 'space' where a vulnerable individual was often more at risk, and more needs to be done to ensure providers are aware of this and capable of responding well to incidents. Many people also observed that open expression of prejudiced attitudes and beliefs and the perpetration of online bullying and hate crime may be encouraged by the perceived anonymity provided by social media platforms. We exist in an increasingly interconnected global environment, where communication happens at a much faster pace and information is much more readily available than in the past. Whilst this can help to foster a much greater awareness and understanding of cultural and other differences it can also facilitate cyber bullying and the spread of prejudice and hate. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government work with all stakeholders (including transport providers and workers) to consider how better to protect those experiencing hate crime on public transport;
  • the Scottish Government to undertake work with key stakeholders to improve the monitoring of and response to online hate crime and prejudice; and
  • the Scottish Government work with employer bodies and others to explore improved methods to prevent, detect and respond to hate crime and prejudice in the workplace.

6. Consistency and range of data was an issue that came up frequently. Data on hate crime is being held by a range of different bodies - the police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal, the Courts and many local third party reporting centres and community organisations, as well as a range of public authorities, such as local authorities and health boards. Evidence of attitudes (like the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey) is also relevant to understanding the 'holistic' picture of hate crime and the drivers of perpetrators. The data held is mixed - whilst useful in some regards, there are issues around the quality of initial recording and challenges presented by the move to a single police force and the adoption of new systems. There is, therefore, a need to consider how information is recorded, how different statistics are drawn together to present a picture of the 'whole', and how data is disaggregated to understand issues particular to characteristic, demographic and place. Undertaking this work can be resource intensive if the right systems and processes are not in place, and this is an issue that needs to be considered across the different holders of information. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government works with partners to improve the monitoring and data collection in relation to hate crime, and to develop methods to include qualitative indices of improvement in community cohesion for minorities.

7. The role of the police in criminal justice issues is central. We are encouraged by the commitment of Police Scotland at a senior level to tackling these issues, and to working with people in communities proactively and positively in order to understand their concerns and keep people safe. The creation of a single force has undoubtedly resulted in anxieties about local engagement, with many stakeholders concerned their communities will be less engaged with local divisions than they might have been with the legacy forces. As discussed above, there are also perceived issues around the police providing a consistent response across Scotland in relation to all categories of hate crime. Further, our evidence suggests that the existing third party reporting system, which relies on third sector organisations, does not operate consistently across the country. We recommend that:

  • Police Scotland and its partners should review the effectiveness of the third party reporting centre network and develop action steps to improve this;
  • the Scottish Government should work with Police Scotland and key partners to identify barriers to reporting, with a view to ensuring that third party reporting is widely available and publicised and that identified barriers are removed; and
  • Police Scotland should monitor and report on their engagement with key communities and stakeholders across the protected characteristics at both a national and a local level.

8. There are strengths and weaknesses in the collective response to hate crime across the justice system, and the wider public sector. Tackling prejudice and hate crime is not only a justice issue, but requires the active involvement of a range of agencies, including local government and public services. Key to an effective response is the creation of genuine multi-agency partnership working at a national and local level, strong leadership, clear and consistent policies, capacity within the system in terms of resources and ability, and practical implementation of interventions designed to achieve policy goals. It must be framed in the context of what are described as Scotland's fundamental values, which include strong commitments to achieving social justice, advancing equality and upholding human rights. Whilst there is a high level commitment across Scotland to addressing these issues, this needs to feed better into local practice. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government should encourage a greater multi-agency strategic and operational approach towards tackling hate crime, eradicating prejudice and building community cohesion that is clearly linked to community planning structures and underpinned by guidance for partners;
  • the Scottish Government should develop clear plans for taking forward the public sector equality duty to 'foster good relations', and encourage other public bodies to do likewise;
  • local examples of good practice in tackling hate crime should be identified and presented in a consistent way to inform policy and practice;
  • local government and key partners should afford building community cohesion greater prioritisation within community planning structures, and link this to targets to reduce the incidence of hate crime and isolation;
  • public services should ensure that their systems for managing complaints and feedback and reporting on the outcomes of complaints and feedback are fit for purpose, and work with affected minority communities to develop these further; and
  • the Scottish Government and partners should explore the use of restorative justice methods with victims and perpetrators of hate crime.

9. Education was consistently identified as a significant potential contributor to making progress in this area. The education system has an important role in developing positive behaviour and ensuring children and young people have modern, outward looking attitudes that embrace equality and diversity. Education also has a key role in shaping citizens of tomorrow who are able to recognise and challenge discrimination. This requires a number of interventions, including inspections which clearly focus on promoting equality and addressing discrimination, a willingness to discuss and tackle prejudice in all its forms, clearer guidance and training for education professionals at all levels and above all clear leadership and commitment from those in the education sector to promote equality throughout the system. The heavily decentralised model of education makes building whole system capacity challenging; whilst the Scottish Government and Education Scotland have an important role, it is also for local authorities and individual schools to recognise more needs to be done, in line with their public sector equality duties and responsibilities. There are clearly anxieties around how some schools engage with questions of equality, particularly around LGBTI issues, and especially where this results in prejudice, isolation or discrimination. We therefore recommend that:

  • the Scottish Government should encourage all primary and secondary educational institutions to use Curriculum for Excellence to address issues of prejudice and hate crime;
  • key stakeholders that contribute to the professional development and continuing professional development of teachers ( e.g. Education Scotland, University Schools of Education, local authorities, and the General Teaching Council of Scotland) should seek to develop the capacity of the teaching workforce to better understand issues of prejudice and equality in the context of their role as educational professionals;
  • the Scottish Government and Education Scotland should utilise the schools inspection framework to better monitor how schools are tackling issues relating to prejudice and equality, including identifying models of best practice and supporting efforts to raise standards in all schools;
  • education Scotland should explore further the potential of youth work (as a model of peer-led intervention) to contribute to tackling hate crime and prejudice; and
  • youth work practice in the area of challenging prejudice and promoting inclusion and cohesion should be shared with relevant partners including police, schools and local government.

10. We recommend that the Scottish Government publishes an update on activity undertaken and progress at regular intervals following the publication of this report. This should set out how the Scottish Government and partner organisations such as Police Scotland, Education Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have taken forward these recommendations.


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