SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE CENTRAL RESEARCH UNIT
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 58
Racist Crime and Victimisation in Scotland
Ian Clark and Susan Moody, University of Dundee
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This research was commissioned to evaluate the impact and use of the new offences of racially-aggravated behaviour and racially-aggravated harassment introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It also considers appropriate ways in which the experiences of minority ethnic victims of racist crime and racist harassment can be accessed by researchers.
- The most common type of racist incident reported to the minority ethnic organisations sampled involved verbal abuse and threats. Physical abuse and property damage were much less frequently reported.
- A quarter of questionnaire respondents thought the number of reported racist incidents in 2000 had increased since 1999; only 8% thought the numbers had decreased.
- Group interview participants said that the reasons for victims not reporting racist incidents included fear of retaliation, the risk of making matters worse, not being worth the effort if no action was taken, lack of trust in the police and lack of information about who to report to or how to report incidents.
- Chief Constables' Annual Reports showed that the number of racist incidents reported to forces increased steadily during the 1990s, with large increases in the financial years ending in 2000 and 2001.
- Some group interview participants felt that the police neither took racist incidents seriously enough nor pursued them vigorously. They were concerned about delays in and variability of police responses. Others had noticed some improvement in police service delivery.
- Crown Office guidance to prosecutors on race matters stipulates that 'Not Guilty' pleas should not be accepted unless evidence is no longer available and admissible. 'Guilty' pleas under deletion of racial aggravation should not be accepted unless there is insufficient evidence to prove the aggravation.
- Group interview participants generally believed that sentences for racist offences were light, and suggested that many victims suffered further harassment while waiting for cases to come to court. Others believed that successful prosecutions sent a message to offenders and the public that racist behaviour would not be tolerated.
- Statistics showed that 450 cases involving statutory racist offences were disposed of in Scottish courts during 1999 and 2000. The statistics did not include any cases involving racially-aggravated common law charges; so it is not possible to say accurately how many crimes with any racist element were disposed of in court.
- There were 480 people accused of statutory racist offences, of whom 348 (73%) were convicted of one or more racist charges.
- Forty per cent of acquittals were due to 'Not Guilty' pleas being accepted. Examination of a sample of court and prosecution papers showed such pleas were accepted when key witnesses were absent, charges on the complaint were incorrect, or there was insufficient evidence to prove the charge.
- Statistics also showed that 45 cases involving racist crimes allegedly committed by people aged between 9 and 16 were referred to Children's Hearings, and 161 such cases were referred to the Reporter to the Children's Reporter.
- Group interview participants thought researchers could reach minority ethnic victims by using minority ethnic organisations as facilitators, by publicising research more widely in the minority ethnic community media, or by researchers attending community gatherings with the prior consent of community groups.
Racist Crime in Scotland
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced two new offences (racially-aggravated behaviour and racially-aggravated harassment) and gave courts the power to increase a sentence for any crime where racial aggravation was proved. These provisions came into force on 1 October 1998.
The Scottish Executive Central Research Unit identified research into racially-motivated crime as a priority in its 1998-2001 Crime and Criminal Justice Research Programme. This project was commissioned and funded by the Scottish Executive and was carried out between March 2000 and July 2001. During the same period, an analysis was made of the data from the minority ethnic booster sample from the 2000 Scottish Crime Survey. The results can be found in a separate research report.
Aims of the research
The aims of the research were to:
- Analyse the use made of the new statutory offences
- Identify gaps in current knowledge of racist crime and victimisation
- Develop ideas for further research in this area _ particularly ways of accessing the experiences of minority ethnic victims of racist crime.
Limitations of the research
It was not possible to look at the prosecution of racial aggravation except where the new statutory offences were used, because of the way that data on outcomes of court cases are recorded. For example, a racially-aggravated assault would have been recorded as "assault". It was not possible for the research to address racism and non-criminal racist harassment more widely due to time and resource constraints.
The offence data that were available did not include information on the ethnic origin of racist crime victims and offenders (such information is not routinely collected), so it was not possible to say whether different ethnic groups experienced racist crime differently. The cases we analysed were completed during the calendar years 1999 and 2000, so cases still in progress could not be monitored.
The research methods were:
- A literature survey
- Analysis of statistics from criminal justice agencies and voluntary organisations
- Analysis of questionnaire responses by 101 minority ethnic organisations and individuals on their awareness and experience of racist crimes and incidents
- Four group interviews with a total of 21 representatives of minority ethnic organisations
- Eight (police force) area studies of management and sentencing of racist crime, involving interviews with police, Regional Procurators Fiscal (prosecutors) and Sheriffs, and looking at case papers.
Table 1 - Summary of interviews conducted, by area
Dumfries & Galloway
Lothian & Borders
Notes: 1 The 6 Procurator Fiscal Service Regions are not the same as the 8 police force areas.
Table 2 - Summary of records collected, by area
Racist incident Monitoring Forms
Prosecution/ Court case papers
Dumfries & Galloway
Lothian & Borders
Notes: 1 Not all forces were able to provide information in the same format.
Definitions of racist abuse
Minority ethnic organisations thought that much 'low-level' harassment and persistent racist behaviour is not reported to the police and other official agencies. The most common type of racist incident reported to them involved verbal abuse and threats. Physical attacks and property damage were much less frequently reported.
While minority ethnic organisations felt that official agencies are trying to prevent or deal with racist offending, they felt that the profile of racist crime should be raised.
As in any other case, if a racist incident was reported to the police and the police believed that a crime had been committed, a report was made to the Procurator Fiscal, who decided whether or not to prosecute. Prosecutions were not taken if the behaviour reported was not covered by a statutory or common law offence, if the offender(s) could not be identified or if there was not enough evidence for a conviction. If offenders were identified as young people aged under 16 the Procurator Fiscal normally referred the case to the Reporter to the Children's Reporter instead of prosecuting.
Minority ethnic organisations said that victims were frustrated if they reported racist incidents and no action was taken, or if they received no feedback on the progress and outcome of cases. It was felt that this could discourage victims from reporting racist incidents in future.
Some representatives of minority ethnic organisations thought that prosecutions under the new offences might lead to a 'white backlash' if the incidents involved verbal abuse or quite trivial behaviour. Others were in favour of the new offences being used to show that the statutory agencies were taking the problem of racist crime seriously.
Reporting and recording racist crime
One third of questionnaire respondents said racist incidents came to their attention 'frequently'; over half said this happened 'occasionally'. A quarter of respondents thought the number of reported incidents in January to October 2000 had increased since 1999; another quarter thought the number was much the same, and only 8% thought the number of incidents had decreased (23% said they did not know).
Group interview participants said that the reasons for victims not reporting racist incidents included fear of retaliation, the risk of making matters worse, not being worth the effort (if no action was taken), lack of trust in the police, and lack of information about who to report to or how to report incidents.
Chief Constables' Annual Reports show that the number of racist incidents reported to the police increased steadily during the 1990s with large increases in the financial years ending in 2000 and 2001. The rise in reported incidents does not, however, necessarily mean that the actual number of racist incidents has increased. For example, some forces have changed the way they record racist incidents, and victims may be more inclined to report racist incidents to the police than previously.
Investigating racist crime
Some group interview participants felt that the police, especially beat officers, neither took racist incidents seriously enough nor pursued them vigorously. They were concerned about delays in and variability of police responses. Others acknowledged the pressure on police resources and said they had noticed some improvement in service delivery.
Some participants praised local Community Liaison Officers and welcomed the introduction of Family Liaison Officers, though others noted that some victims prefer not to involve non-family members in their personal affairs.
Multi-agency groups involving representatives of statutory and voluntary agencies have been established in all force areas, but were organised and managed differently in different regions. Multi-agency partnerships were thought to be less effective where key players either failed to take part or did not make a real contribution.
Among a sample of 69 court and prosecution case records there were eight where the accused had shown no remorse or had admitted to holding racist views, and another five where the accused had denied being racist.
Prosecuting racist crime
Crown Office has issued guidance on race matters in a series of Circulars to Procurators Fiscal. The Circulars indicated that:
- It is presumed that racist crimes will be prosecuted
- No racist crime cases may be prosecuted in District Courts
- The new statutory offences should be used instead of common law charges
- 'Guilty' pleas cannot be accepted if the charge is amended to exclude the racial aggravation (unless there is not enough evidence to prove the aggravation)
- 'Not Guilty' pleas to such charges cannot be accepted unless evidence is no longer available, or is not allowed to be heard
Analysis of case papers suggested that many Procurators Fiscal had used the new racially-aggravated offences. In 29 cases from court and prosecution papers it was possible to compare charges in the police report with charges in the complaint. In 22 of these 29 cases the Procurator Fiscal had replaced the common law or Public Order Act 1986 charges in police reports with the new offences.
Regional Procurators Fiscal said that prosecutors were not normally able to identify instances of repeat victimisation unless they had been advised of this by the police.
Prosecutions involving racist crimes were not normally 'fast-tracked' unless the accused was in custody or the case involved children or vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. Regional Procurators Fiscal believed that cases involving racist crimes are more likely to go to trial than other cases, and that some cases are dropped before the trial because of insufficient evidence. They thought this was because victims are reluctant to give evidence, or because key witnesses change their story or fail to appear.
Regional Procurators Fiscal felt that, apart from in serious cases heard by a Sheriff and a jury, lack of resources meant it was not possible routinely to provide feedback to witnesses and victims on the progress or outcome of cases.
Dealing with racist crime in court
Group interview participants generally believed that sentences for racist offences were light, but that people of minority ethnic origin who were convicted of crimes got longer or stiffer sentences than white offenders. Court proceedings were regarded as highly formal and the judge was felt to be intimidating. The layout of most courts meant that witnesses could find themselves close beside the accused and their families while waiting to give evidence.
Participants suggested that many victims suffered more harassment while waiting for cases to come to court. They also believed that accused people who were acquitted would harass the victim again, and that if the offender was sent to prison his or her family or friends would continue the harassment.
Others believed that successful prosecutions sent a message to offenders and the public that racist behaviour would not be tolerated.
Regional Procurators Fiscal and Sheriffs were aware of difficulties in cases where an interpreter was not fluent enough in an appropriate dialect, did not understand court procedures, or tended to 'lead' witnesses.
Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) statistics showed that 450 cases involving statutory racist offences were disposed of in court during 1999 and 2000. The statistics could not, however, show how many cases involving racially-aggravated common law charges were dealt with.
There were 480 people accused of statutory racist offences, of whom 348 (73%) were convicted of one or more racist offences. They had faced 536 statutory racist crime charges and 318 other common law and statutory offences, over a third of which were assaults.
As with most offences, a fine was the most common penalty for racist crime convictions, and 44% of all such convictions resulted in a fine being imposed. The highest fine was 1,200, the lowest was 50 and the average (mean) was 269.
Forty per cent of acquittals were due to 'Not Guilty' pleas being accepted. Examination of a sample of 69 court and prosecution records showed such pleas were accepted when key witnesses were absent, charges on the complaint were incorrect, or there was not enough evidence to prove the charge.
Accused had previous convictions in 45 of the 69 cases from court and prosecution records. In another 14 cases accused had no previous convictions (relevant details were not found among the other nine cases).
SCRO statistics also showed that 45 cases involving crimes allegedly committed by young people aged between 9 and 16 were referred to Children's Hearings, and 161 such cases were referred to the Reporter to the Children's Reporter.
Sheriffs believed that they had to mark society's concern about racist behaviour by imposing a higher sentence for racially-aggravated offences. They said they had a public duty to make an example of racist offenders and that they tried to make offenders realise the effect of their actions on the victims.
Most Sheriffs distinguished between what they regarded as minor instances of racist language (which, some felt, was often the result or drink or drugs and not intentional racism) and deliberate attempts to target and abuse ethnic minorities. They dealt with these serious cases more severely.
Reaching and supporting victims of racist crime
Group interview participants considered that the best ways to reach minority ethnic victims were by:
- organisations such as those they represented providing a link to victims for researchers
- publicising research via the minority ethnic community media
- researchers attending religious centres and cultural gatherings or setting up outreach surgeries with the consent of community groups
- inviting victims to take part in research by using a help-line for victims of racist crime
- victims being encouraged to take part by positive role models within communities
A number of major gaps in the provision of services to racist crime victims were identified, including:
- information leaflets about the criminal justice system translated into minority ethnic languages
- a lack of feedback on the progress and outcome of cases
- the loss of victims' and witnesses' anonymity during trials
- the inability of many Victim Support offices to offer support from ethnically matched volunteers
- the ineffectiveness of some multi-agency groups in dealing with offenders outwith the criminal justice system
There appears to be a genuine will to tackle racist crime on the part of the statutory authorities. At the same time, a great deal remains to be done to put policies into effective practice. It should be a matter of concern to all that as yet minority ethnic communities do not always feel confident that racist incidents are taken seriously enough or that they will be protected from the traumatic effects of racist victimisation.
- The Scottish Executive should consider mounting a publicity drive to combat racism and racist crime, similar to the Zero Tolerance Campaign against domestic violence.
- The distinction between racist crimes and racist incidents, i.e. conduct that is not criminal, should be made clear to the public and to complainers, as the current situation may create confusion and lead to criticism of official agencies where racist incidents are not prosecuted.
- A standard definition of racist incidents and crimes and a standard format for recording them should be developed and used by all Scottish police forces.
- All partner agencies should participate fully in a multi-agency group, at a level of seniority that will enable partner organisations to take actions agreed by the group.
- Police forces should use a standard form for recording racist incidents and collect information that could be used as a source of intelligence for future investigations, such as details of repeat offending and repeat victimisation.
- The use of interpreting services should continue to be monitored to ensure that interpreting needs are identified early and to establish better quality control.
- Routine feedback to victims of racist crime should be given a higher priority by the Procurator Fiscal Service.
- The police and Procurators Fiscal should ensure that relevant details of common law racist aggravations are stored on their computer systems.
- Further Crown Office guidance might usefully direct Procurators Fiscal to keep a record of any instances where charges were amended or 'Not Guilty' pleas were accepted. Such a record would provide an audit trail for racist offences, and show cases in which, for example, witnesses were not available or charges were amended.
- The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration should jointly develop a policy for dealing with young people aged under 16 who have been referred to the Children's Reporter or Children's Hearings because of racist offences. The outcomes of referrals on these grounds should be recorded and published, and research into the motivation of perpetrators of racist crimes, including young people, should be commissioned.
- Close consultation with minority ethnic communities at the planning stage of research projects is essential, and assumptions about the uniformity of minority ethnic communities should be avoided.
"Racist Crime and Victimisation in Scotland" The research report summarised in this Research Findings, is available priced 5.00. Cheques should be made payable to The Stationery Office and addressed to: The Stationery Office Bookshop, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ
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