Inclusion Scotland is a ‘Disabled People’s Organisation’ (DPO) – led by disabled people ourselves. Inclusion Scotland works to achieve positive changes to policy and practice, so that we disabled people are fully included throughout all Scottish society as equal citizens.
Inclusion Scotland broadly supports the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which follows extensive engagement with stakeholders, including the Bracadale Inquiry1 and the Scottish Government consultation non hate crime legislation2.
However, Inclusion Scotland are concerned that consideration of the Bill has been overly focussed on the theoretical impact of the Bill on freedom of expression rather than the actual impact of hate crime on real people, including disabled people.
Impact of hate crime
Many disabled people face antipathy, dislike, ridicule, and insult on a daily basis as they go about their lives. This includes going to shops, at work, using public transport or at school.
As a result, disabled people may prefer to not go out, or avoid places like town centres, leisure facilities, or public transport, instead sticking to the few places they feel safe. This can lead to social isolation, which in turn can impact on the persons mental health and wellbeing.
Whilst some perpetrators may be unaware of the consequences of their actions, thinking that it is just a bit of fun, this persistent low-level harassment limits the opportunities of disabled people and our freedom to enjoy our rights to equal active participation in our communities, and to live independently in society, the same as anyone else.
Hate crime against disabled people
Disabled people are more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled people. There has been a steady increase in the number of reported hate crimes against disabled people in Scotland in recent years. The total number of charges of an offence aggravate by prejudice related to disability in 2019-20 was 387, an increase of 29% on 2018-193 . It is generally accepted that hate crime against disabled people remains significantly under-reported.
Disabled people report that low-level harassment is a backdrop to their everyday lives. This can include things like name-calling, moving things out of reach, getting in the way, pranks, or making the disabled person the butt of the joke. In themselves these might not seem sufficient to be considered a “crime”, but the cumulative effect can be devastating.
In response to a survey carried out by Inclusion Scotland in Summer 2019, disabled people identified stigma and discrimination, including hate crime, as the third most important issue facing disabled people in Scotland. Over half of the disabled people who responded said that bullying, hate crime and hostile attitudes had got worse since 2016.
Disabled people have also reported to us that they have faced increased abuse as a result of Covid-19 measures as they are sometimes unable to fully comply with Covid-19 rules, for example wearing face masks or social distancing.
The need for the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
In its “Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”4 on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD), the United Nations Committee on Rights of Disabled People said –
“The Committee is concerned about abuse, ill-treatment, sexual violence and exploitation of women, children, intersex persons and elderly persons with disabilities, and the insufficient measures to prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities..” (para 39)
It also referred to “the persistence of negative attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice against persons with disabilities” (para 22).
The UN Committee recommended that the State Party “Define comprehensively the offence of disability hate crime, and ensure appropriate prosecutions and convictions.” (para 39(b)).
Inclusion Scotland firmly agrees that there should be a comprehensive definition of the offence of disability hate crime, but that this definition should cover any crime committed against a person because of their protected characteristic, whether or not motivated by hate or hostility.
Inclusion Scotland believes that there should be a consistent approach to hate crime applied across all protected characteristics. It is sensible to have a single piece of legislation to ensure a consistency of approach and interpretation across the protected characteristics covered by hate crime legislation.
Consolidation of hate crime legislation will also help to address intersectional hate crime. Disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to experience gender-based violence, including domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape5. One in two disabled girls will have experienced some form of sexual violence before their 18th birthday, compared to one in five disabled boys. Disabled pregnant women can face hostile attitudes. A recent Stonewall Scotland survey on LGBT hate crime shows that disabled LGBT PeopIn this respect Inclusion Scotland is disappointed that the Bill does not address some existing historical anomalies regarding racial hatred to make these consistent for all protected characteristics.
Offence of stirring up of hatred
Inclusion Scotland welcomes the proposal to extend the stirring up hatred offence to cover all protected characteristics. We also support the proposed Stage Two amendment to restrict this to threatening or abusive hatred that is intended to stir up hatred.
Inclusion Scotland also supports, in principle, the intention to amend the Bill at Stage Two to clarify the protection of freedom of expression. As with the rest of the Bill, we believe that such protections should be consistent across all protected characteristics.
Along with other equality organisations, Inclusion Scotland proposed in supplementary evidence to the Justice Committee at Stage One that sections 11 and 12 of the Bill should be replaced with a general protection of freedom of expression based on Article 10 or the European Convention on Human Rights.
Inclusion Scotland believed that this, together with the high threshold of threatening or abusive behaviour intended to stir up hatred would provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression.
Inclusion Scotland agrees with the Committee of need to “balance the rights of individuals to be protected from being subjected to threatening or abusive behaviour and the rights of individuals, the press, and religious groups to express themselves freely, without fear of investigation or criminality”.
However, the exercise of freedom of expression as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR) also carries with it duties and responsibilities the, including the protection of the reputation or rights of others.
Expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, and insult are not without consequences for people who share the characteristics subjected to it. It impacts on their health and wellbeing and their human rights, including being able to go about their daily life to participate in society safely, without fear of intimidation or harassment, in the same way as everyone else.
There is little doubt that negative portrayals of groups with protected characteristics leads to an increase in hostility towards these groups, and an increase in hate crimes. The inaccurate and negative attacks on EU immigrants by some politicians and media outlets as part of their Brexit rhetoric reportedly led to an increase in hate crime against immigrants. Similarly, Muslims face increased hostility following terrorist attacks by extremists.
Preventing the stirring up of hatred does not restrict the legitimate expression of opinions. But those who fear that the offence of stirring up hatred will restrict their freedom of speech should perhaps ask themselves first what is it in what they want to say they believe could be interpreted as stirring up hatred?
National and Local Policy Officer, Inclusion Scotland
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 07740 731651