New legislation to tackle so-called hate crime is to be extended to include crimes against people with disabilities, it has been announced.
Crimes against the disabled will be included in the legislation
Criminal Justice Minister John Spellar outlined the proposals at Westminster on Thursday.
The draft legislation is expected to be laid in parliament in the coming weeks.
It will require judges to treat racial and religious aggravation and hatred of sexual orientation or disability as an aggravating factor when sentencing.
"The government is pleased to be bringing forward draft legislation which will enhance the law to tackle crime motivated by hatred," said Mr Spellar.
"In addition to protections provided on the basis of race, religion and sexuality, I have included protection for people with disabilities under the draft legislation."
The minister, who was speaking during a debate at the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, added that the proposals reinforced the message that such crimes would not be tolerated.
"The proposals also bring forward measures to increase maximum sentences for certain offences, giving judges greater powers in sentencing where aggravation is proven," he said.