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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Call to strengthen hate crime law
Gay men in bar
The move would bring greater protection to gay people
A bill to strengthen laws on hate crimes against gay or disabled people in Scotland is to be brought forward.

The proposal, by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, would make attacking someone because of their sexual orientation or their disability an aggravating factor.

This would put such assaults on the same legal footing as racist attacks and religiously-aggravated assaults.

Scottish ministers said they were committed to introducing measures and would hold talks on the way forward.

The draft proposals for the bill, which have been lodged with the Scottish Parliament, have been backed by Scottish police chiefs and the Liberal Democrats, as well as groups including the Association for Mental Health, the Equality Network and Stonewall.

It has created a situation whereby the only people who do not enjoy the full protection of the court are heterosexual, white males
Bill Aitken
Tory justice spokesman

But Labour have reservations about the move, while the Conservatives argued that everyone deserved the same protection.

A survey in 2004 found that 47% of disabled people had experienced hate crime because of their disability, with 31% of those reporting that they suffered verbal abuse, intimidation or physical attacks at least once a month.

Research into attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people carried out in 2002 found 68% had been verbally abused in the last year, while 23% had been physically assaulted.

Mr Harvie, a Glasgow MSP, said he was "deeply disappointed" that the previous Holyrood government decided not to press ahead with the legal changes, which have been backed by Scots police chiefs.

'Utterly intolerable'

"We know that the hate crime laws which protect religious groups and minority ethnic communities are useful not only in individual cases, but also in focusing police attention on the problem," he said.

"Disabled people and sexual minorities deserve no less protection from prejudice and bigotry."

Lothian and Borders Police Assistant Chief Constable Neil Richardson said all crime motivated by hate was "utterly intolerable".

"This addition to the legislation will send a clear message of support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and should assist in giving increased confidence to those who are, or become, victims of homophobic or transphobic crimes to report the circumstances to the police," he said.

But Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said Mr Harvie was wrong to believe that any judge would not increase a sentence for an assault on a person who was physically disabled.

He went on: "The problem now is that there are too many aggravations, racial or sectarian. It has created a situation whereby the only people who do not enjoy the full protection of the court are heterosexual, white males."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Transexual victim of hate crime tells her story



SEE ALSO
Disabled attacks hate crime plea
24 May 07 |  Scotland
Clampdown on bullying of disabled
13 Nov 06 |  North Yorkshire

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