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What are hate incidents and hate crime

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only.

What are hate incidents 

Any action is considered to be a hate incident when the victim or anyone else thinks what happened was motivated by hostility or prejudice against you for one or more of the following of your characteristics or presumed characteristics:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender identity
  • disability.

You will need one independent source of evidence to support your claim that it was a hate incident. It must be proved that the person accused of this behaviour showed malice or ill-will towards the victim in the incident. The victim cannot be the independent source of evidence.

What is hate crime

A hate crime is any offence that has been committed when there has been aggravation based on prejudice of any of the 5 groups protected by law from such prejudice.

You may have been attacked because someone thought you were a particular type of person, for example, of a particular race, even when you are not.

Other personal characteristics taken account of by the police

In some places there may be a local problem of one group being prejudiced against another for a reason other than the characteristics listed above. The local police can record any attacks as being about prejudice even if they are not included in the hate crime legislation. For example, a group of teenagers may have adopted a particular style of dress or activity and others may attack them for this reason.

What type of incidents can be recorded as a hate incident

Here are some examples of what can be recorded as a hate incident:

  • verbal abuse like name-calling and offensive jokes
  • harassment
  • bullying or intimidation by people of any age
  • physical attacks such as hitting, punching, pushing, spitting
  • threats of violence
  • hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages or hate mail
  • online abuse, for example, on Facebook or Twitter
  • displaying or circulating discriminatory literature or posters
  • harm or damage to things such as your home, or a pet or car
  • graffiti
  • arson
  • throwing rubbish into a garden
  • malicious complaints.

When has a crime been committed

Hate crime involves prejudice and ill-will. There has to be evidence that the action complained about was motivated by malice, hatred and ill-will for the action to be treated as hate crime. When an offence has been committed, a court must take account of the 'hate crime' when sentencing the offender.

Hate incidents motivated by ill-will and prejudice may be prosecuted as an offence. You can report the incident to the police.

The Procurator Fiscal decides if an offence has been committed. The types of offences that may occur when someone behaves with malice and ill-will towards someone else might include:

  • assault
  • breach of the peace
  • sexual assault
  • burglary
  • harassment
  • racially or religiously motivated attacks (these are specific offences)
  • theft
  • murder
  • fraud
  • hate mail (malicious communications).

The law that can be used to deal with hate crime and hate incidents comes from:

  • common law such as breach of the peace, assault, vandalism 
  • statute law from both UK and Scottish Acts of Parliament that go back as far as 1986.

What can you do

You can report what happened to the police. More about how to report a hate crime.

You can do this if you are a friend, neighbour, family member, support worker or simply a passer-by. Even if the victim does not want to report the incident you can.

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