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The UNISON Scotland response to the Justice Committee and Equal Opportunities Committee regarding the Offences (Aggravation By Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill

October 2008

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee and Equal Opportunities Committee call for evidence on the general principles of the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill

  • We fully support the introduction of new legislation that would create new statutory aggravations to protect victims of crime who are targeted as a result of hatred of their actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. Similar statutory aggravations already exist to protect individuals and groups targeted on racial or religious grounds.

  • UNISON Scotland is opposed to the addition of other categories such as gender and age as we believe this would dilute the bill and detract from the focus of the legislation.

  • UNISON Scotland commends this proposed bill, as it is significantly ahead of the existing English, Wales and Northern Ireland legislation in the protection it would bring on transgender identity.


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union with over 160,000 members working in the public sector in Scotland. UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee and Equal Opportunities Committee call for evidence on the general principles of the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill.

UNISON is committed to working for LGBT rights. We facilitate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members organisation in UNISON, locally and nationally, to support each other, to identify and challenge discrimination, to increase awareness of LGBT rights and to campaign for change.

UNISON challenges discriminatory actions and campaigns for a fair deal for disabled members. UNISON supports the Social Model of Disability. We believe it is the way society organises that creates barriers to inclusion and prevents disabled people from taking an equal part in life. As a union we campaign on important issues such as:

  • Inaccessible workplaces
  • Information systems that don't include disabled people's access needs
  • Negative attitudes and prejudices from employers

UNISON's priorities on disability are led by the union's own disabled members. Our union is committed to taking on the issues from those who know them best.

As a Union, UNISON believes that the equality strands are a core part of our business and that we need to work in partnership to challenge inequality and to secure change on behalf of our members.

The Bill:

We welcome the Bill which, for the first time provides that either the motivation or demonstration of malice or ill-will can be taken into account when sentencing for an offence aggravated by prejudice. Our members believe that it is the motivation of the offender which is important in sentencing. We acknowledge that there is current provision for aggravation to be taken into account on sentencing. There are, however, short-falls in current sentencing. These include inconsistency in application, how the aggravation is evidenced and lack of monitoring.

UNISON welcomes provisions for a single source of evidence and the exclusion of the need for a specific or individual victim to be identified.

There is anecdotal evidence from UNISON members of under reporting of offences motivated by presumed LGBT status. This is despite feedback from the Gay Police Association of improved reporting of Hate crime through remote reporting schemes. UNISON welcomes the remote reporting schemes and supports the continued funding by all Police Forces in Scotland.

UNISON'S Position:

The provision of this new legislation, will not in itself change attitudes towards prejudice. This requires an information campaign and support service be available to victims of prejudice. This should be supplemented by training for staff working with the Procurator Fiscal and Scottish Court services.

We also welcome the publication of the report by the "Hearts and Minds Agenda " Working Group, which was published in February 2008. However, there is a need to build the confidence of the LGBT community to address under reporting.

Sentencing of Aggravation by Prejudice cannot be taken in a vacuum. In addressing the wider context of equality, UNISON hopes that the message which is sent out to the people of Scotland from this legislation is one step towards achieving the vision set out in the Hearts and Minds Agenda report.

We recognise that the legislation also has the potential to support the Public Sector Equality Duties and increase the range of remedies and monitoring available for LGBT victims of anti-social behaviour from tenants and owner occupiers.

UNISON notes that that the Sentencing Commission report 2006, had the remit of improving consistency of sentencing but failed to make any mention of the Working Group on Hate Crime Report recommendations. We welcome that sentencing will still be addressed by the judge rather than assigning a prescribed response to these issues. We feel this is the best way to address consistency issues. We recognise that this may not add to the sentence but that the nature of the aggravation and how it has influenced sentencing will be recorded.

UNISON also welcomes the costed improvements which have been identified for the implementation of the monitoring of the Bill and that both the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Court Services have agreed to pay for this from existing funding.

UNISON supports the Bill as it currently stands. We have reservations regarding including similar aggravations in respect of age and gender for the following reasons:-


  • The issue of gender has been a regular and high profile feature of both administrations;
  • inclusion of gender would, in our view, be a distraction from the needs of two under-represented groups who have been
  • effectively overlooked within the criminal justice system
  • aggravated criminal offences against women are currently being covered in the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill;
  • It would detract from the excellent work on domestic abuse that has been a positive feature of both administrations;
  • We concur with the findings of the Scottish Parliament Working Group on Hate Crime (2004) and in particular, Recommendations 1 and 3, Legislation.


  • According to Help the Aged, analysis of crime figures in 2003, reveals that only about 2.7 per cent of older people in Scotland have suffered a robbery or personal attack - significantly fewer than in England and Wales.
  • Physical attacks against older people in Scotland are very rare but do generate an enormous amount of media publicity, precisely because they are so rare and therefore shocking. And this media spotlight has the effect of frightening older people unnecessarily.
  • Crime surveys throughout the UK show that older people are much less likely to experience violent crime than other groups.
  • Scottish Police Forces are working through the Safer Scotland campaign to reassure older people that crime here is less of a threat than they might think and that they should not allow the fear of it to inhibit their lives.
  • As with gender, we concur with the findings of the Scottish Parliament Working Group on Hate Crime (2004) and in particular, Recommendations 1 and 3, Legislation.


Disabled and LGBT Scots continue to experience some of the worst examples of intolerance and violence, and this Bill will, if Parliament backs it, help make that kind of unacceptable behaviour a thing of the past.

LGBT research is very difficult to carry out and is usually done through anonymous surveys or interview in known gay venues, which are attended by a particular section of the LGBT community. The pattern of behaviour is that many LGBT people will only attend these places at specific points in their life which are related to age, relationships and being out to friends, colleagues and perceived authorities. It is not necessary to have a flamboyant lifestyle to be targeted for hate crime, it is motivated by the perception of the perpetrator rather than the actions of the victim.

By supporting this Bill as it currently stands, UNISON Scotland, in no way, is suggesting that crimes against women and older people is any less serious than those crimes committed against other groups in Scottish society. We have reservations, however, about the inclusion of age and gender in this particular piece of legislation and these reservations are reflected in the Working Group Hate Crime report, published 2004. We do believe that there is sufficient evidence to support Patrick Harvie's contention that the two groups highlighted in his bill are more vulnerable at present and require statutory recognition within the criminal justice framework.


For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

E-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk






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