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Scottish hate crime still not being investigated despite new legislation

By Jordan Hunter

An investigation by The Glasgow Guardian shows that after the hate crime legislation implemented last year, Scotland has seen more reports pursued, but only marginally so.

Hate crime has been a major topic across Scotland with the implementation of the recent hate crime legislation, but freedom of information requests sent by The Glasgow Guardian have found that reported hate crimes are still broadly going unpursued. 

The number of hate crime reports over the last five have been stagnant with only a 1% increase since 2017, on average only around 10% of hate crimes actually get pursued. This year is on track to have the highest rate pursued at 15%, but still only marginal compared to the expected 6,600 total to be reported. However, it’s only a 3% increase in pursued hate crimes from 2020, the last full year before the enactment of the legislation. 

The last five years saw the number of reported hate crimes pursued and investigated nearly double; jumping from 457 in 2017 to 928 last year. Based on the data at the time of writing this year is on pace to significantly outpace last year, with the number estimated to come in around 1,000. Despite this dramatic increase, the overall number of hate crimes investigated continues to be marginal compared to reports.

The number of perpetrators linked to hate crime has been rising since 2018, going from 6,195 in 2018 to 6,819 last year, but this year is on track to decline to around 6,500. Interestingly, the information released notes that the records of perpetrators who police deem “no concern/not applicable” are deleted after six months. Thus the true number of perpetrators for any given year is unknown. Thus the recent growth prior to this year could  suggest there are more perpetrators about whom Police Scotland have concerns. 

Much has been made about the recent hate crime legislation in Scotland, which saw the inclusion of transgender people as a protected group and lowered the bar for prosecutions Many expected a surge in the number of reports of hate crime. It notably made “stirring up hatred” an offence, which many interpret to mean that speech deemed hateful could be prosecuted.  An opinion article in The Economist wrote last year that it would have a “chilling effect on free speech”. While its proponents, such as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice at the time, Humza Yousaf, claimed the legislation sent, “a strong and clear message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated.”

The act took the better part of 2 years to pass, and in our investigation we can see some of the early effects. While the percentage of prosecutions have gone up, it appears only marginally so and generally in line with trends from before the legislation. The expected flood of hate crime reports has not yet come to pass. While it may be still too early to tell, we can see that there is yet to be any real discernible difference. The Times reported earlier this year that police were struggling to understand and enforce much of the new legislation. This is part because of the “vague” language of the legislation itself, and part because they have yet to install the new record keeping system that the legislation requires. 


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