Monday, 28 November 2011

Number-crunching and sectarian offences in Scotland

Following a report entitled 'Religiously aggravated offending in Scotland' comes a blog post that is well worth reading, as it argues effectively against the government's case for bringing in legislation on offensive behaviour at football matches on the available evidence.

Using figures from the official report (2010–2011), Chris Graham shows how small the problem is with sectarian aggravation in Scotland, compared with other categories of hate crime. The figures run as follows:

Crimes labelled racial aggravation numbered 693 charged (compared with 6, 452 racially aggravated crimes), less 106 who were not prosecuted. Less 303 who were not found guilty, leaving 390 convictions.

Offences on police accounted for 41 per cent of all the charges. Breach of the peace, as opposed to assault, accounted for 72.5 per cent of the charges. Custodial sentences were handed down on only 70 individuals out of  693 charged.

Chris points out further that this it is very hard to define the crimes recorded as sectarian. As many people have pointed out, the word sectarian does not appear in the drafting of the Bill. As with this report, it appears that the target's religious affiliation is unimportant: it is enough that the behaviour is offensive in the eyes of a third party:
this report does not present any information about the religious beliefs or affiliations of the people targeted by the offensive conduct. The legislation defines a religiously aggravated offence as an incident where the offender evinces towards the victim “malice and ill-will based on the victim’s membership (or perceived membership) of a religious group or a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation”, or, the offence is motivated by the same. There is no data held by Police or COPFS on victims’ membership of religious or cultural groups with a perceived religious affiliation as this is not relevant to the definition of the crime in law.
Since the target's religious affiliation is irrelevant to the definition of offensive behaviour, it seems a peculiarly messy definition of a crime. It seems beyond absurd to attempt to frame a law around perceived offensive behaviour aimed at football-related sectarianism, but refuse to admit that the religious faith of the person offended against bears any weight, especially bearing in mind that nearly half of the targets were police officers. Doing this on the basis of a conviction rate of 400 convictions in a country that recorded over 150,000 crimes in 2009–2010 adds to the absurdity.

Pinning this on to football is also provoking, says Chris Graham:
Perhaps the most important statistic in relation to football and this proposed bill is that only 12.9% of these reported charges took place at football matches. So why then, Mr Salmond, do we have a bill which specifically targets football fans? Even if there was a sectarian issue in this country it certainly hasn’t been taking place predominantly at football.
It is heartening to see the level of signatures creeping up on this petition, but even more to see intelligent pieces like this from Chris Graham and more.

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