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Racist and religious hate crime

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only.

If you have been harassed or attacked because of your race or religion, the person who attacked or abused you may have committed an offence. There are specific criminal offences of racial aggravation and harassment from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 section 33 and section 96 (inserted by Criminal Law Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1995.

On this page you can find out more about what to do if you have been the victim of a racist or religiously motivated attacks.

What are racially and religiously motivated attacks

Racially motivated attacks and religiously motivated attacks are attacks which are carried out because of someone's racial or ethnic origin, or their religion or lack of religion or their presumed race or religion. This is often called 'hate crime'. It might include the following:

  • a physical attack on a person or family by another person or group of people
  • an attack on a person's or family's home or property, for example, breaking a window, throwing an object through a letter box or setting a car alight
  • verbal abuse or threats
  • written abuse, for example, a letter, pamphlet, email, posting on a website or telephone text message
  • an abusive slogan painted on a wall or building
  • football-related hate such as sectarian songs or chants.

Racial and religious offences

An offence is racially or religiously aggravated if, at the time it is committed, the offender is insulting about the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group, or the offence is motivated by hostility towards members of a particular racial or religious group. To prove that the offence is aggravated by prejudice you are likely to need evidence of the malice and ill-will, for example, because of what the person said or other ways in which you know there were threatening communications.

Threatening communications

It is a criminal offence to communicate material to another person if it contains:

  • threats of serious harm, or
  • threats made with the intent of stirring up hatred on religious grounds.

If someone stirs up hatred of a particular racial group or religion, for example, by publishing or distributing insulting information, they may be prosecuted for racial or religious hatred. Information can include printed material such as leaflets or magazines. It can also include content on websites, emails and internet chat rooms. You can report internet content which stirs up racial hatred on the Internet Watch Foundation website. You can make a report without giving your name.

What can you do about a racist or religious hate incident

If you have been affected by a racist or religious incident and a court agrees that a criminal offence is racially or religiously aggravated, it can impose a more severe sentence on the person who attacked you. Some examples of offences which can be racially or religiously motivated are:

  • criminal damage
  • assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm
  • harassment.

There may have been previous attacks in the area which could help to indicate that an attack was racially or religiously aggravated. There may also be a local organisation, for example, a community group or the Citizens Advice Bureau, which can confirm that there is a history of such attacks in the area. Evidence of a history of attacks in an area may help to prove to the police that an offence is racially or religiously aggravated.

More about discrimination because of religion or belief
More about race discrimination

Organisations that provide help and support

There may be a number of organisations locally to help you to cope with a racist or religious hate incident. If you have been a victim you should contact Victim Support at Victim Support Scotland or call the Scottish Helpline on 0845 603 9213.

If you want to know more about how to get involved to stop religious bigotry a Scottish Government funded agency called Action on Sectarianism may be able to help. It provides information and advice for different age groups through specific portals. You can check what is available on the Action on Sectarianism website.

The law relating to racially and religiously aggravated offences is complicated, and if you are not sure what to do next you should get advice, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

More about how to report a hate crime

Report the attack to the police

If you want help or support in contacting the police, you can approach a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice. If you have been attacked by a member or members of the police, you should always obtain advice.

The government's own guidance defines a racist incident as '…any incident which is viewed as racist by the victim or any other person'. This means that if either the victim or any other person, for example, a witness or a police officer, perceives an attack as racially motivated, the police should record it as such. The definition does not currently take into account religiously motivated attacks.

When you contact the police, you can ask to be interviewed at the police station, your home or a mutually agreed neutral location, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau (if they allow this). In any case, it is generally advisable for another person to attend with you, for example, a solicitor experienced in this type of work, a Citizens Advice Bureau adviser or a friend.

If you have difficulty speaking or understanding English, you may find it helpful to have an interpreter with you. You can ask the police to provide an interpreter, ask a friend or relative, or approach a local organisation, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau.

What do the police do

The police must compile a report about the alleged attack. If there are at least two pieces of evidence that prove that the racially or religiously motivated incident/attack occurred (the legislation requires this before action can be taken) the police can submit it to the Procurator Fiscal (PF). It is the PF who decides whether or not to prosecute. If you believe that the police have not taken the attack seriously enough, you may be able to make a complaint.

Attacks at work

If you have been attacked at work, the attack might constitute race (or religious) discrimination. Find out more about race or religious discrimination and more about discrimination at work.

Attacks at or near the home

If you have been attacked at or near home, the local authority may be able to take action.

It's against the law for the police or the local authority to discriminate against you because of your age, race, sex, sexuality, religion or disability. If you feel they are not taking your complaint seriously because of discrimination, get advice about what to do.

More about the public sector equality duty

Attacks at school

A child may have been attacked at or near school. If so, the school should have an established procedure for dealing with such incidents, and should co-operate with the police and local education authority.

It's against the law for the police to discriminate against you because of your age, race, sex, sexuality, religion or disability. If you feel they are not taking your complaint seriously because of discrimination, get advice about what to do.

More about the public sector equality duty
More about problems at school

Further help

If you have been the victim of an attack, you should always seek advice. You can get this from a Citizens Advice Bureau -where to get advice. You could also get help from your local Victim Support scheme or another local organisation.

You could also contact the Monitoring Group Freephone Emergency Helpline. The Helpline advises victims of racial harassment and abuse. It is available 24 hours a day, and is staffed by volunteers recruited from black and ethnic minority communities, to ensure that they can communicate with the caller in the appropriate language. The Helpline number is 0800 374 618.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has a Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service which offers help to victims of certain types of crime, including hate crime. VIA has produced a useful leaflet for victims of hate crime, available on the COPFS website.

If you have suffered a personal injury as the result of a racially or religiously motivated attack, you may be eligible for compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

More about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

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