Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

MSPs back wider hate crime laws

Men walking with their arms round each other
The bill aims to give better protection to gay people

A new law widening the definition of hate crimes to include attacks on gay or disabled people has been passed in principle.

MSPs voted unanimously in favour of making them aggravated offences that can be more severely punished.

The bill, proposed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, is expected to become law later this year.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said it would send out a signal that such crimes would not be tolerated.

He said: "People whoever they are, whatever disability they are afflicted by, whatever sexual orientation they possess, are entitled to the full protection of the law and to be treated with dignity, with compassion, and to be fully and properly protected."

Violent assaults

Under existing law, crimes motivated by religious or racial hatred are singled out for special treatment.

The Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Bill widens the definition of hate crime to include people victimised because of their sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.

Mr Harvie said hate crimes against gay and disabled people were a "significant" problem.

"Disabled people are four times more likely to be violently assaulted than non- disabled people," he told MSPs.

The bill now moves to its second and third stages for more detailed scrutiny.

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