In June, the latest figures on reported hate crime for Scotland were published. These showed that there has been an increase in the number of charges reported in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19. Racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime, having increased by 4% from the previous year – a total of 3,038 charges. Hate crime relating to sexual orientation, religiously aggravated charges, disability aggravated charges and charges related to transgender identity have also increased.
The need for the newly proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill is clear. Its publication has been met with a range of views and the call for evidence by the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee received over 2,000 responses – the highest ever since the parliament was founded in 1999. This led to the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross, calling for the Bill to be scrapped before the parliamentary scrutiny process could even begin, due largely to limited time available before the current parliamentary session comes to an end in May 2021.
Some have sought to sensationalise the Bill, often focussing on whether the new legislation would see people being handed a custodial sentence for sharing views on social media that potentially result in harmful behaviour being directed towards people from marginalised communities.
Victim Support Scotland believes hate crime victims’ needs and experiences must be at the heart of this new legislation.
The impact of hate crime is frequently more devastating and longer lasting than that of other types of crime because an aspect of an individual’s core identity and sense of belonging is attacked – something they have no control over. This means the individual is acutely aware of their vulnerability to future victimisation. It not only negatively impacts individual victims, but whole communities and marginalised social groups.
Many critics appear to have forgotten that it was widely recognised that Scotland needs to do more to eradicate hate crime, with many organisations, agencies and political parties calling for updated legislation. In 2017, a comprehensive review of existing hate crime legislation was conducted. It included a consultation process that many contributed to, including numerous hate crime victims and Victim Support Scotland.
The Hate Crime and Public Order Bill has been influenced by this review and aims to recognise the profoundly harmful impact of hate crime as well as widening the protections for people from marginalised groups. For example, some of the most vulnerable victims of hate crime are currently excluded from existing hate crime legislation, such as asylum seekers, refugees, Gypsy/Travellers and homeless people.
Most critics have been constructive, expressing concerns that will need to be considered if the legislation is to be workable. Thankfully, the parliamentary scrutiny process provides opportunities to take further evidence, consider legitimate concerns and make suitable amendments.
This Bill was always going to be controversial and this has led to more engagement with the issues it raises than most other legislation. However, debate must not result in hate crime victims feeling less valued or less empowered. It has been concerning to see much of the commentary and media representation misconstrue measures already contained in existing hate crime legislation, conveying a lack of understanding of the issues and the impact of such crimes.
The voices and experiences of people who have been victims of hate must not be lost amongst the swell of unhelpful narratives as the debate on Scotland’s new legislation continues.
Find out more about Victim Support Scotland’s views on hate crime in Holyrood magazine.