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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 16:08 GMT
New law 'will prevent hate crime'
Plans to extend the law on hate crime in Scotland to protect the gay community and disabled people have been backed by the Scottish Government.

The proposals, which should win the approval of parliament and bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, sparked a wide-ranging debate on the blog of BBC Scotland's political editor, Brian Taylor.

Here, Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP behind the plans, gives his thoughts on the public debate so far.

I was pleased to see so many comments posted to Brian's blog in response to my Bill on hate crime. The proposal has provoked well-argued points both in support and in opposition.

Patrick Harvie
Patrick Harvie is a Green MSP

Many posts used terms like 'tougher sentences', or talked about 'special protection' for certain groups of people. I'd like to make it clear that the Bill will not be written in these terms.

As with the existing laws on aggravated sentences for hate crimes on racial and religious grounds, I am proposing only that courts should take the aggravating factors into account when they pass a sentence.

For less serious offences, this might mean community sentences designed to challenge prejudiced attitudes in an appropriate way, and it would be for the court to decide how best to achieve that.

Longer custodial sentences would need good reasons - for example if a serious offender's prejudice made them more likely to re-offend, the court might consider a longer prison sentence to protect public safety.

The proposal will cover aggravation by prejudice "on grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity".

Many blog comments focused on gay and lesbian people, but prejudice against any sexual orientation would be covered. As with the existing aggravations on racial and religious grounds, the mechanism does not offer more 'protection' to some than to others.

The idea that "only straight white able bodied men" are being left out is plain wrong, as well as being a rather odd thing to say. It's the prejudice which counts, not the characteristics of the victim. A crime is not a hate crime because of who the victim is, but because of the offender's motivation.

It seems very strange to me that an offender's motivation should not be taken into account when we try to decide what kind of sentence will be most effective.

But what happens in court is only one aspect of all this. What we know about 'hate crime' is that certain groups of people are experiencing very high levels of targeted crime and abuse, and that they are far less likely to report it to the police than other people.

This legislation will ensure that police forces work to identify and prevent hate crime, and it will make it clear to victims that society takes the matter seriously. Giving people the confidence to report these crimes is an important objective of this Bill.

Ministers back gay hate crime law
15 Jan 08 |  Scotland


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