Victim Support Scotland responds to call for evidence on new hate crime legislation

7 September, 2020

Victim Support Scotland’s response to the call for views on the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill considers the needs and experiences of victims of hate crime, and the requirements necessary in order for the legislation to be effective.

Recent crime figures show that hate crime is on the rise and change is needed if Scotland is to tackle hate crime effectively.

Victim Support Scotland understands the long-lasting impact hate crime has on individuals and communities, including a sense of isolation and powerlessness. We have long supported a victim-centred approach to hate crime policy and engaged with Lord Bracadale’s independent review of hate crime legislation in 2017 to that end.

The Bill makes hate crime and its impact on individuals, and the wider communities they are part of, visible. It recognises how protected characteristics shape and intersect with identity and that this has a role to play in how others will treat individuals and groups in society, especially when this leads to damaging and traumatic experiences.

Victim Support Scotland is hopeful that the introduction of a new offence of stirring up hatred would allow for appropriate support resources to be put in place for individuals and communities that are repeatedly subject to abuse in the form of sweeping statements and harmful stereotypes. The stirring up hatred offence would ensure that a hate crime is acknowledged as having a far-reaching impact beyond the targeted individual, and that the marginalised community they are part of may also be affected.

Any move which makes it clearer and easier for victims to access their rights and understand what measures and support are available to them is desirable. Currently, individuals might experience multiple forms of hate crime which are covered by existing separate laws. Consolidation of these laws into one piece of legislation has the potential to simplify the criminal justice journey for individuals. For example, ‘stirring up of racial hatred’ offences are currently contained in the Public Order Act 1986.

Some concerns have been expressed which need to be considered if the legislation is to be workable. We recognise the need for clarity of language in some areas of the proposed Bill and understand that many are calling for the defence of ‘reasonableness’ in the Bill to be tightened up, with clearer guidance to courts on factors to provide for context. The vast quantity of responses submitted in the consultation process highlights the importance of getting hate crime legislation right for victims.

The Bill must be allowed to continue through Parliament to allow for robust scrutiny to take place and to provide a platform for people’s experiences to be heard.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill forms the cornerstone of a zero tolerance approach to hate crime that reaches across the Scottish Government, criminal justice agencies and wider civil society. We welcome the opportunity to engage further with the process.

Whoever you are and whatever the crime, we’re here to help