Scottish ministers should lead discussion on the development of clearer terminology and definitions around hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion, according to the report of an advisory group published today.
The report of the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion also emphasises the role of public education in improving understanding of the nature and extent of hate crime.
It is clear from the report that prejudice and hate crime are continuing problems. In his foreword to the report, the group's chair Dr Duncan Morrow says that in meeting those affected, he and his colleagues "were both moved and humbled" to hear their stories – meetings that "underlined that facing prejudice and fear remains part of the everyday life of too many people in Scotland, escalating into direct personal violence and threat".
Particular issues exist around the use of public transport, online hate crime and prejudice, and what is experienced in the workplace, and the group calls fo work targetd at each of these areas.
Regarding the law, the report comments that 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 with offences motivated by prejudice rather than hate. "The importance of having clear definitions and common understandings was clear", it states.
It goes on to note that the criminal law operates in relation to some protected characteristics but not others, gender and age not being covered – though many people have a combination of such characteristics. "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."
There is also a need to improve monitoring and data collection, and for the police to review the effectiveness of the reporting network and any barriers to reporting offences. More work on community cohesion, and exploring the use of explorative justice, are also recommended – along with a concerted effort across the education system to address issues of prejudice and hate crime with young people.
Welcoming the report, Cabinet Secretary for Equalities Angela Constance said: “The Scottish Government is committed to doing all that we can to prevent and eradicate hate crime and prejudice, and build community cohesion... However, I recognise that there is still progress to be made, and we will be carefully considering the recommendations from the advisory group in full.”
The report was also welcomed by the Equality Network, whose policy coordinator Hannah Pearson commented: “Attitudes towards the LGBTI community in Scotland have greatly improved over the years, but hate crime is still a serious concern for many LGBTI people. We welcome the 22 recommendations from the independent advisory group, and look forward to continuing to work with both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to ensure they are implemented fully”.