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10 August 2016, 08:14
The Scottish Government is to review the law covering religiously aggravated crimes in the wake of the murder of Asad Shah.
The Crown Office decided the circumstances of the killing in March did not meet the "statutory test for an offence to be aggravated by religious prejudice'' but Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC has now written to the Justice Secretary as he believes the case highlighted a "potential gap'' in legislation.
If charged with an offence aggravated by religious prejudice, Tanveer Ahmed could have faced a longer minimum sentence.
Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 covers offences aggravated by religious prejudice and reads: "An offence is aggravated by religious prejudice if at the time of committing the offence or immediately before or after doing so, the offender evinces towards the victim (if any) of the offence malice and ill-will based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a religious group, or of a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation; or the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards members of a religious group, or of a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation, based on their membership of that group.''
The Lord Advocate said: "Following careful consideration of the evidence, Crown Counsel, the most senior lawyers in Crown Office concluded that the statutory test for an offence to be aggravated by religious prejudice was not met in the circumstances of this case.
"The absence of the statutory aggravation in this charge does not in any way diminish the gravity or seriousness of the crime. The full circumstances of the case were placed before the court for its consideration.
"The case has highlighted a potential gap in the statutory provision on religious aggravation and I have accordingly written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to ask him to consider reviewing the legislation.''
The Justice Secretary said a "very important issue'' has been raised.
Michael Matheson told STV News: "There may be a potential gap within the legislation at the present moment.
"I think he's raised a very important issues and as a government we are now going to consider that very carefully and if necessary we will bring forward legislation to address this very issue that the Lord Advocate has raised.''