Change is coming on how we protect people from hate crime
This year, the Scottish Government is considering new laws about hate crime.
We know that far too many people who have learning disabilities have been victims of bullying and of verbal and even physical assault.
In fact, our research has found that nine in ten people who have a learning disability have experienced bullying, facing hostility in their schools, colleges, workplaces – and sometimes in the street, on public transport or even in their own homes.
Some of our ACE members shared their stories of being victims of hate crime in the video below, and outline how we can all #BeTheChange in our communities.
Bullying and abusive language towards people who have a learning disability is completely unacceptable.
So it’s important that the law recognises when an offence is targeted at people because of a particular characteristic or is motivated by hatred and prejudice.
What might be changing?
Last year, the Scottish Government asked the retired senior judge, Lord Bracadale, to take a comprehensive look at hate crime legislation in Scotland. He published his final report in May, and made a number of recommendations about how the law on hate crime should be changed.
At ENABLE Scotland, we welcome his recommendation that “hostility” should be the basis of defining a hate crime – rather than a need to prove “malice and ill will” – and that statutory aggravation should be applied when an offence involves prejudiced hostility. That means the sentence someone receives when convicted of (for example) assault or breach of the peace will be increased if the court finds that the offence was motivated by hatred.
We are also pleased to see his recommendation that the Scottish Government should consider a new provision to effectively apply statutory aggravation to offences that involve the exploitation of vulnerable people.
However, Lord Bracadale says that such offences should not be treated as hate crimes, so we are very keen to ensure that if such discriminatory, targeted crimes are not to be included in the new hate crime legislation, then legislation to cover this should also be brought in at the same time. We will be monitoring these plans closely over the coming months.
Why does this matter?
Sometimes, people don’t appreciate the abuse and hostility that people who have learning disabilities too often face. So it’s really important that we record when offences are targeted at people in order to demonstrate the scale of this issue.
Although Lord Bracadale says that courts should not specify how much sentences have been increased because the offence was motivated by hate, we welcome his recommendation that the aggravation should be expressly stated and included in the record of conviction. We would be keen to see this record include a detailed statement of the protected characteristic involved; for example, that the crime was targeted at a person who has a learning disability.
It’s also vital that people feel confident about reporting a hate crime to the police and that they are given all the support and assistance they need to cope with the incident and to communicate what happened – including support throughout the court process.
While Lord Bracadale says no new legislation is required in this area, our members have highlighted a lack of support for people who have learning disabilities when they come into contact with the criminal justice system, and we are encouraging the Scottish Government to make greater support for victims of hate crime a high priority.
What will happen next?
The Scottish Government will shortly launch a full public consultation on hate crime legislation, and a new Bill will be presented to Parliament next year to change the law.
While it’s really important that the law protects people from hate crime, we know legislation alone can’t make the problem disappear.
That’s why ENABLE Scotland’s #BeTheChange campaign seeks to enable change through understanding, with our Change Champions delivering workshops across Scotland this year – giving people who have a learning disability a platform to share their personal stories, raise awareness of unacceptable behaviour and practices, and encourage everyone to be supportive, respectful, understanding, open and a friend to people in their communities who have a learning disability.
More than 400 people from all over Scotland have already pledged to #BeTheChange. You can join them here.
Frank McKillop is ENABLE Scotland’s Policy and Research Officer