A majority of respondents to a Scottish Government consultation do not think there is a need to address and define sectarianism in hate crime legislation.

It sought views from organisations including public-sector bodies and faith groups, as well as from individuals, as the Government considers reforms to hate crime legislation in Scotland.

A total of 1,159 responses were received as part of the consultation, which considered a number of aspects to hate crime reform including modernising laws, new statutory aggravations, new stirring-up offences and other related issues.

On the question of whether there is a need for sectarianism to be specifically addressed and defined in hate crime legislation, a majority of 527 respondents (59%) said they do not think it is necessary to do so.

There were 139 (26%) respondents who said sectarianism should be addressed and defined in hate crime legislation, while 77 (15%) said they were unsure.

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Some of those who responded "no" or "unsure" argued sectarianism was adequately addressed in existing legislation, while others expressed a more general concern about criminalising sectarian behaviour on the basis that it would potentially restrict freedom of expression.


Earlier this week, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said football clubs and authorities are not doing enough to curb the problem behaviour of a minority of fans, with the situation at a "tipping point".

In March last year, MSPs voted to scrap the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, which had been aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football.

Another key finding from the consultation that a "substantial proportion" of respondents - including most individuals - had concerns about the impact of hate crime laws on freedom of speech and religious expression, and about laws designed to protect specific groups.

The report found many respondents called for the repeal of hate crime laws or at least did not want such laws to be extended.

When asked about legislation around online conduct, the consultation found views were mixed over a recommendation no specific legislative change was necessary.

It found respondents who agreed no legislative change was required mainly thought online conduct was already covered by existing legislation or it would be adequately covered if other recommendations were taken forward.

Among those who thought legislation was required, the consultation found they mainly said online hate was a serious and increasingly prevalent issue which needed a specific tailored response.

READ MORE: Hiding sectarianism statistics makes football fans less safe

In a question where respondents were asked for their views on anything else the Scottish Government could include in its proposals to update Scottish hate crime legislation, some called for blasphemy laws to be abolished in Scotland.

Among some of the reasons for doing so, respondents said the current laws are not used and abolishing them would be in line with international thinking, with many countries, including England and Wales, already having repealed their blasphemy laws.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: "We will consider all consultation responses as we continue to develop our consolidated hate crime legislation to be put before Holyrood during the current parliamentary period.

"We want to modernise and simplify the current law to ensure the right balance between freedom of speech, religious expression and sufficient protection for those who face unacceptable discrimination in our society.

"We all have a role to play in creating the inclusive and forward-thinking society we want to live in where hatred will not be tolerated."