Leader comment: Law must be strong enough to punish hate crime offenders

There are two significant strands to a report on Hate Crime compiled by a Scottish Government taskforce. The two issues affect quite different groups '“ asylum seekers and refugees, and youngster on social media sites '“ but they are equally important and are linked by the common themes of prejudice and fear.

Syrian refugee families, welcomed by the Scottish Government, arrive at their new homes on the Isle of Bute. Picture: Getty Images
Syrian refugee families, welcomed by the Scottish Government, arrive at their new homes on the Isle of Bute. Picture: Getty Images

Sadly, the report concludes that the intimidation and distress suffered by those in both groups “remains a part of everyday life”.

Questions have been asked over whether or not existing laws are sufficient to protect the affected laws, and in both cases, it is essential to ensure legislation is relevant to changing circumstances.

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The Scottish Government is eager to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to this country as they flee conflict in Syria and the Middle East, and this desire to support those in dire situations has reflected the national mood. But it would indeed be a crime if those to whom we offer sanctuary then find that they are under attack in the communities that they have been placed in. No-one believes that racism does not exist in Scotland, and it is sadly inevitable that people we have welcomed here will encounter a minority who do not accept them. For that reason, we need robust legislation to give protection to the vulnerable, and allow them to start rebuilding their shattered lives in peace.

Those who target families who have been given a home here must meet with the full force of a law which punishes those who cause others to live in constant fear of attack.

The other key finding of the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime is that more action is required to protect youngsters from bullying on social media sites.

This is another area where legislation can be out of date because the aggravation takes place in a new environment. Bullying is easier than ever before, because the internet gives perpetrators easy and anonymous access to their prey, on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This access can also be private, with no witnesses to the behaviour.

Adults are used to screening unwanted communication out of their lives, but for children, online bullying can destroy confidence, and leave the victim bewildered at why a forum for keeping in touch with friends can allow such cruelty into their lives.

The taskforce correctly states that social media providers must play their part in tackling online abuse, but legislation is also required to deter the cowards who take pleasure in others’ misery. The consequences of social media bullying can be devastating for families, and the potential effect of online bullying cannot be underestimated.

It is encouraging that the Scottish Government has said it will do all it can to prevent and eradicate hate crime and prejudice. It can start right now by ensuring that available legislation is fit to bring perpetrators to justice. Fully eradicating this kind of behaviour is a longer term aim, but in the meantime, the authorities must have the means to ensure no-one gets away with making another person’s life a misery.