Asad Shah murder prompts Scots law review

Asad Shah Image copyright Spindrift
Image caption Asad Shah was murdered outside his shop in Glasgow

The law covering religiously aggravated crimes is to be reviewed in the wake of the murder of Asad Shah.

The Crown Office decided the circumstances of the killing did not meet the "statutory test" for a religiously aggravated offence.

The Lord Advocate has now written to the Justice Secretary to highlight a "potential gap" in legislation.

Offenders charged with an offence aggravated by religious prejudice can face a longer minimum sentence.

Tanveer Ahmed a Sunni Muslim from Bradford in Yorkshire, was jailed for a minimum of 27 years on Tuesday for stabbing 40-year-old shopkeeper Asad Shah to death outside his store in Glasgow in March.

The 32-year-old claimed he killed Mr Shah, a member of the Ahmadi Muslim community, because he had "disrespected Islam" by claiming to be a prophet.

But Crown Office lawyers concluded the crime could not be classed as aggravated by religious prejudice under the current legal definition.

Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003

"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."

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC 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."

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson later said a "very important issue" has been raised.

He 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."

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