Hate Crime Review and Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill Progress as Victim Support Scotland Forges Positive Future

23 Jun, 2017
Kevin Kane – Victim Support Scotland’s Parliamentary, Research & Policy Officer is bringing us a detailed overview on recent developments in Scotland and VS Scotland role & status

The Right Honourable Lord Bracadale is currently chairing an independent review of the laws covering hate crime offences in Scotland.  This is aimed at ensuring the legal system is fit for purpose in the 21st century and Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has already been actively involved in the review process.

The review will examine the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 and Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

On Monday the 15th of May we were delighted to welcome Lord Bracadale and his colleague, Carole Robinson, to our head office in Edinburgh, where he met with Acting Chief Executive, Susan Gallagher, Operations Manager, Laura Baxter, and Parliamentary, Policy & Research Officer, Kevin Kane, to discuss, among other things, how important it is that those who find themselves the victim of hate crime have appropriate legal protection.

In response to the meeting, Victim Support Scotland’s Acting Chief Executive, Ms Susan Gallagher, stated:

It was great to meet with Lord Bracadale and Carole Robinson to discuss the current Hate Crime review in Scotland.

 “Recent news coverage of events around the globe has demonstrated that hatred and prejudice continue to have serious consequences for people and communities across society.

 “Within this global environment it is necessary to revisit legislation in Scotland to ensure the laws we have in place are fit for purpose and victims’ needs must be considered throughout the process”.

Commenting on the importance of the Hate Crime Review, Victim Support Scotland’s Parliamentary, Policy & Research Officer, Mr Kevin Kane, said:

Hate crime is motivated by prejudice and has a negative impact not just on the individual victim, but on whole communities and certain social groups.  As well as being harmful for those involved, it is a significant barrier to building positive community relations and is an important issue for Scotland, Europe, and the world”.

 The Scottish Government defines hate crime as a crime committed against a person or property that is motivated by “malice or ill-will towards an identifiable social group” and research has consistently shown that some social groups are more often victims of harassment and crime.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics, including, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.  Of these characteristics, five relate to hate crime legislation in Scotland and includes Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Transgender Identity, and Disability.

VSS is conducting research into these five protected characteristics and exploring the impact of hate crime on each group.  The Policy team is producing weekly briefings, which will culminate in a report, so we are in a better position to influence the Hate Crime Review. This will also highlight the work of VSS in supporting victims of hate crime, enhance our in-house resources and, most importantly, help publicise hate crime issues in Scotland.

Further, we are considering hosting a mini-conference to bring together people and organisations who agree that tackling hate crime should be a priority concern for all of society.  The role for us at VSS will be to champion the victim and highlight hate crime from the view of furthering victims support and rights. It is hoped Lord Bracadale’s review will give rise to change to ensure that those who find themselves the victim of hate crime have appropriate legal protection.

Moreover, the organisation has been heavily involved in the The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill which is currently making its journey through The Scottish Parliament.  A significant amount of work VSS does is linked to Domestic Abuse and we have been a key participant in the pursuit of a workable piece of legislation in this area.

So, it was a privilege to recently submit both our written and oral evidence to the Justice Committee on this topic.  In relation to his oral evidence, Director of Operations at VSS, Mr Alan McCloskey (pictured), said:

VSS wholeheartedly supports the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, as we believe it will reduce the stigma around the offence and will help people understand the true nature of domestic abuse, including the aspect of psychological harm.  This will greatly increase the opportunity for legal redress for victims, and strengthen the criminal justice response in this area”.

                     

 

Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Mr Alan McCloskey, VSS Director of Operations, giving evidence to Justice Committee on the 13th of June

 

 

 

The proposal intends to create a new offence of abusive behaviour towards a person’s partner or ex-partner.  Current legislation does not adequately reflect the experience of victims and so the creation of a statutory offence of domestic abuse will increase the justice system’s ability to respond to this crime, and will recognise non-physical abuse, including psychologically coercive and controlling behaviour, which is great news.

As the largest charity supporting people affected by crime across Scotland through the provision of practical help, emotional support and essential information, we look forward to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill becoming law, as this will address a gap in existing law, which currently makes it difficult to prosecute domestic abuse.

The European Dimension

VSS Chairs a Victims Organisation Forum of all National victims’ agencies across Scotland.  We invited all criminal justice partners to attend to give their perspective on how they are meeting compliance of The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014.

Recently, we hosted an event on Standards of Service where we were able to provide practical examples of compliance and non-compliance. This helps Scotland monitor and assess how we are conforming to the 2012 EU Victim’s Directive and ensures our work on the ground is compatible with our European Partners in every day practice.

We are also running a series of training events on the impact of Crime, Domestic Abuse, and Victims of Sexual Crime, which have all been developed with the principles of the EU Directive in mind.

Our training courses are beneficial for people working in communities, criminal justice, health and social care, voluntary, private and public organisations.

The Future of VSS – Reflections from the ACEO

This, of course, is not the entire list of VSS Policy involvement.  However, both hate crime and domestic abuse developments in Scotland represent the type of progressive campaigns at the heart of everything VSS does to best represent our users.

It is in keeping with the vision of our CEO, who highlighted at the VSS conference earlier this year that we must “support interventions tailored to meet individual needs” and stressed the importance of ensuring that “all people affected by crime get access to the support they need”.

 

 

 ACEO, Ms Susan Gallagher, speaking at the VSS conference earlier this year on the future of the organisation. Venue: John McIntyre Conference Centre.

 

 

 

In support of forging a new and positive future, everyone at the conference – from our ACEO to our all-important volunteers on the front line – were united behind the VSS commitment to create an environment of innovation, where we can learn, develop and flourish together, to build a modern, committed, and adaptable organisation.