BY Daniel Harkins | June 8 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Avoid creating a ‘hierarchy of rights’, Church says after hate crime review

The Church has said the Scottish Government must ‘be careful not to create a hierarchy of rights’ that favours ‘certain protected characteristics over others,’ when implementing the findings of a review into hate crime.

Last week, Lord Bracadale published his long-awaited review into hate crime in Scotland. It made a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government, but largely side-stepped the issue of sectarianism.

Criminal law in Scotland recognises a number of identity-based ‘protected’ characteristics: race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Religiously aggravated crime is the third most common type of hate crime behind those based on race and sexual orientation, with 673 charges in 2016-2017. 57 per cent of the victims of these attacks were Catholic, despite Catholics making up less than 16 per cent of the Scottish population.

In its submission to the Bracadale review, the Catholic Church had called for an acknowledgement that ‘anti-Catholic sectarianism is qualitatively and quantitatively different from other types of religious hate crime in Scotland.’

“This is a product of the Reformation Parliament of 1560 and its condemnation of Catholic doctrine and worship including the ban on the celebration of all Catholic Sacraments… a recommendation by this review, that the Scottish Government consider issuing a collective, retrospective apology could go some way towards building, repairing and renewing bonds between communities harmed by historical wrongdoing. It could also be the first step in addressing historical iniquities,” the submission read.

However, in his review, Lord Bracadale did not address these points. In a recommendation to the government, he wrote: “I do not consider it necessary to create any new offence or statutory aggravation to tackle hostility towards a sectarian identity (insofar as that is different from hostility towards a religious or racial group) at this stage.

“The conclusions of the working group which has been appointed to consider whether and how sectarianism can be defined in law will provide Scottish ministers and parliament with the basis to debate how best to deal with offences of a sectarian nature in due course. That debate might include consideration of whether any such offences should be classed as a form of hate crime or treated as something distinct.”

The SCO revealed in April that the working group to which that recommendation refers has no representative from the Catholic Church or Irish Catholic community, and includes a member who once mocked clergy as ‘actors in fancy dress.’

Other recommendations from the report include a consolidation of all hate crime legislation, a new offence of ‘stirring up of hatred’ to be introduced alongside a ‘protection of freedom of expression provision’ related to that offensive, new statutory aggravations based on age and gender, and ‘intersex’ to be introduced as a separate category rather than a sub-category of transgender identity.

He also wrote: “No statutory replacement for section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 is required.”

That much-maligned act was repealed earlier this year, after consistent criticism from campaign groups, football fans, and the Catholic Church.

In a response to the Bracadale report, Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “Crucially, the report suggests that consideration needs to be given to protect freedom of speech/expression, stating that a number of respondents had raised concerns about such freedoms, particularly in relation to religion.

“We expect the Scottish Government to take freedom of speech seriously when considering new hate crime legislation and to be careful not to create a hierarchy of rights, where certain protected characteristics are favoured over others.”


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