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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 16:11 GMT
'Sympathy' for minority rights move
gay couple
Gays would be given the same rights as racial minorities
Calls to give gay and lesbian people the same legal protection as racial minorities are worthy of consideration, according to Scotland's solicitor general.

Elish Angiolini was questioned by Green MSP Robin Harper, who proposed the move, as she gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament.

She told the justice 2 committee that moves to outlaw religious bigotry were "practical and workable".


The solicitor general was clearly sympathetic to the proposal that other specific groups of people could be protected further by law

Robin Harper MSP

Under these plans, courts could be allowed to impose heavier sentences in cases where religious bigotry is the motive.

This would be similar to race relations legislation which allows for an "aggravated charge" to be brought when an offence is committed on the grounds of race.

Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie has proposed the amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which is currently being considered by the committee.

Mr Harper argued that such legal protection should extended further to cover all minority groups, including gay and lesbians and the disabled.

Ms Angiolini had "some sympathy" for his proposal, although she believed such elements would already be taken into account.

'Very encouraged'

But she said: "I think it would be useful to have more time to consider the terms of it and also consider the way it would be proposed."

Mr Harper said he was "very encouraged" by Ms Angiolini's evidence.

He said: "The solicitor general was clearly sympathetic to the proposal that other specific groups of people could be protected further by law.

Robin Harper
Mr Harper wants protection for more people
"As the solicitor general noted, there is a real problem of a disproportionate level of offences towards these groups. Some of them, in her own words, are horrendous.

"And I am pleased she said the proposal to extend the law should be given further consideration."

The committee had been due to discuss Mr Gorrie and Mr Harper's amendments on Tuesday, but delayed their consideration until Wednesday to consider Ms Angiolini's evidence.

The Scottish Executive has already signalled it is in favour of the proposal to counter religious bigotry, but it is thought unlikely to support Mr Harper's amendment.

A cross-party report published by the executive last week outlined a 12-point plan demanding legal changes and action from football clubs to tackle sectarianism.

Need for legislation

Ms Angiolini was asked whether it would be better to wait until the end of a consultation period on the report, which runs until next March, before taking action.

She said: "It depends how seriously this parliament considers the problem to be."

The report suggested a consensus that there was a need for the legislation, she told MSPs.


I, as a prosecutor, welcome anything that highlights hatred offences

Elish Angiolini
Solicitor General
"My own view is the sooner it happens the better but we don't think there's a huge problem in implementing this.

"It's not rocket science or something that prosecutors will struggle with in relation to the law.

"I think it's something practical and workable."

The solicitor general thought that the threat of being labelled a racist or a religious bigot could act as a deterrent.

And she said: "I, as a prosecutor, welcome anything that highlights hatred offences and which will bring to the attention of the community the extent of the problem."

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 ON THIS STORY
Robin Harper MSP
"The argument that common law will protect these groups just does not hold water"
See also:

06 Dec 02 | Politics
05 Dec 02 | Scotland
05 Dec 02 | Scotland
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